Axians Industrial Applications & Services GmbH (Germany) - Author: Reiner Bachthaler.
Overcoming challenges in the cement industry with digital workflows: How to digitize logistics processes.
Digitization of logistics processes: How the cement industry can optimize its processes:
Digitization for process automation has become firmly established in numerous industries and sectors. In others, however, skepticism still prevails: The cement industry, for example, often asks itself how it can master its specific logistical challenges with digital workflows.
The digitization of logistics processes offers the opportunity to break up, modernize and automate entrenched structures and processes in the cement industry. However, logistics processes in cement plants have often grown over many years and are characterized by individual expert methods and isolated solutions.
While this can work well in certain sub-segments, it often limits interoperability with other segments and results in “friction losses” and high manual overhead.
Software-based and integrated digitization:
Software-based and integrated digitization measures address precisely this point: They minimize manual, error-prone activities and reduce dependence on individuals through standardized processes.
By using standardized interfaces between different software applications, such as between logistics programs and ERP systems, it is possible to avoid double entries and inconsistencies and ensure comprehensive transparency throughout the entire process.
With a disruptive approach, this not only optimizes existing processes somewhat, but puts them to the test and also reorganizes the processes as needed. Disruption does not only mean that new technologies are used. Because a bad manual process that is merely digitized remains a bad process. Therefore, before starting digitization projects, one should always critically reflect on which processes need to be optimized or even completely changed.
What matters in digital logistics processes:
- Consistency: The same data source is accessed everywhere, eliminating typical problems with manual, disconnected logistical workflows.
- Transparency: All parties involved, whether customer, dealer, forwarder or consignee, can access the current status and relevant information.
- Efficiency: Manual entries, double entries and errors are avoided. Logistics processes are thus accelerated, resulting in lower costs and effort, as well as reduced error rates.
Where do you start with the digitization of logistics?
So the fixed selection of an available software solution is not enough. Rather, the digitization of logistics processes starts with a comprehensive analysis of the status quo. The aim is to identify the specific challenges and weaknesses of the existing system, or the existing processes, and to derive the most meaningful goals from them:
- What aspects of the workflow can be made more efficient and cost-effective?
- Which of these are specifically relevant to the cement plant’s individual requirements?
- What takes precedence: automated order and transport planning or greater automation in plant supply and loading?
- What specific improvement goals do I want to achieve: Do I want to (for example) reduce logistics costs by 15%, speed up processes by 10%, or perhaps drastically reduce manual interventions.
Good to know:
A solution partner who understands the value of a thoughtful approach will support you even in this initial analysis phase. With the advantage that the digitization measures meet the individual needs of your company.
Let’s use the check-in process for truck drivers entering a cement plant to illustrate what the entry into digitization can look like. First, the following questions should be answered in order to understand the process and its challenges:
- How and with whom does the truck driver communicate?
- What are the tasks of the driver at the plant?
- What documents does the driver carry?
- How are weighing operations handled?
- What is the planning process and how does the driver sign up?
- How does the driver know which silo to drive to?
- Are the inbound processes also designed efficiently?
And this is what the entry into a digitized driver check-in process at the plant can look like:
Let’s assume a truck driver drives to the plant for loading. At the entrance, he uses a self-service terminal, enters his license plate number and possibly an order number, and selects material and quantity from a list. A document is printed showing both the empty weight of the truck and the corresponding silo to be filled. At the charging station, the driver hands over the document, whereupon the charging process is started manually. After completion of the process, he receives a printed delivery bill.
This is just one example of many, but the potential is already clear here. And at this point, you should ask yourself: How ambitious do I want to be? Do I aim for a digital perfect state right away or would a pragmatic start – i.e. the Minimal Valuable Solution – make more sense for me?
For example, many building materials manufacturers are still hesitant to automate their logistics workflows. The fear of large investments and long maturities is great. Therefore, providers should offer modular solutions that enable a quick start with manageable costs and allow for future extensions.
Scalable from entry to comprehensive migration:
While the described starting approach can form a good basis, the goal can also be complete digitization and maximum automation of logistics processes. Not just a vision, but a realistic solution for the checkin process in a cement plant may look like the following:
- Pre-determined order details are already taken into account in the planning.
- An online networked driver app informs the truck driver about all necessary details.
- A camera-based system recognizes the vehicle upon arrival, supported by an electronic queue management system.
- The app allows a QR code scan for check-in, without additional input from the driver.
- The correct loading or unloading station is assigned via app and navigates the driver accordingly.
- The loading process is started via another QR scan, automatically capturing weight data and eliminating delays.
- At the end, a digital delivery bill is ready to be stored in the Driver App as well as in a central order management system.
Scale step by step, achieve more flexibility:
The beauty of scalability is the flexibility you gain – from a start-up solution to a full-scale implementation, it’s possible to expand incrementally and as needed. Additional functions, such as terminals for wheel loaders or forklifts, can then be integrated at later stages to further optimize the process and minimize manual input.
As mentioned earlier, it is crucial that every digitization project starts with a careful analysis phase. After all, only precise knowledge of current processes and requirements makes it possible to develop and implement tailored and scalable solutions.
However, scalability does not only mean growth, but also adaptability: It enables companies to shape the digitization process at their own pace according to their individual requirements.
How do you build a logistics ecosystem?
Clear: The physical delivery process is highly visible within the company’s own plant. However, it is also clear that the actual start of the supply chain begins much earlier. Creating and managing orders, planning and coordinating with carriers, transmitting information to drivers: all these activities – which are part of an overarching logistics ecosystem – determine smooth operations in advance. And that’s what matters here:
- Networking of all actors: The multitude of players – from customers to planners, freight forwarders to truck drivers – must work together harmoniously, which is facilitated by digital platforms.
- Customer interaction: Modern systems can enable customers to place their orders digitally and without human intervention, either by ordering directly online or through interfaces to their own systems.
- Planner and coordination: The planner, who often oversees multiple plants, must be able to access real-time ordering information and efficiently coordinate transportation orders.
- Communication with the forwarders: Automated tools and platforms can significantly speed up data exchange between planners and carriers.
- Driver interaction: An integrated system ensures that the driver receives all the necessary information before entering the plant and is supported throughout the process.
- Integration with the ERP system: A logistics ecosystem should be connected to the ERP system via online interfaces to ensure data consistency, prevent duplicate entries, and improve overall workflow.
- Full order-to-cash coverage: An integrated logistics ecosystem covers the entire order-to-cash process – from initial customer contact to delivery confirmation, everything is automated and monitored. Electronic proof of delivery minimizes paper documents and increases efficiency.
Digitizing logistics processes - revolutionizing the cement industry:
You notice: By connecting all the players and processes involved in the entire order-to-cash workflow, companies can increase their transparency and efficiency, reduce costs, and provide better service.
You don’t have to open Pandora’s box in the process. Rather, if the digitization of logistics processes is based on a sound assessment of the status quo and the company’s own requirements, and thus prepares a scalable and pragmatic implementation approach, it can lead the cement industry into a modern and successful future.
Axians Industrial Applications & Services GmbH supports these challenges with software solutions for the automation of logistics processes in the plant (VAS Yards Management) and for the overarching, central logistics workflow (VAS Cloud Logistics)
Whether the focus is then on optimizing the logistics processes in the plant or automating the entire order-to-cash workflow is ultimately up to you. And if you still have questions about the topic, do not hesitate to contact me at any time (link below).