How Manufacturers Can Achieve Real-Time Inventory Control for Optimal Efficiency

Author: Whitney Koch

Effective inventory management is a critical issue manufacturers face. Poor inventory control can have significant consequences for manufacturers, which begs the question: How do manufacturers get real-time visibility and control over their inventories?

In a recent #USAMfgHour chat on X (formerly known as Twitter), Kirsten Austin, President and CEO from DCSC, Inc., which is a software developer of shipping and supply chain solutions for distributors and manufacturers, led a conversation about just that. In the discussion, the host and participants shared valuable insights into the importance of technology, maintaining clean and accurate data, and proper operational processes.

Grocery Store Mishaps and Real Time Inventory Management

To get the chat going, host DCSC, Inc. posed the question, “Have you ever gone to the grocery store and forgotten the one item you really needed?”

Whitney Koch from Keystone Click responded, “More often than I would like to admit!”

“Only when I’m with my wonderful wife!” exclaimed Nigel Packer from Pelatis Online. “I missed the bit at the wedding where it said, [l]ove, honour and obey, [f]etch, carry and [p]ay!  

Replying to Packer, Jim Palmer from Buy Direct USA said, “Lol you know my wife? [I] end up going to get it for her.”

“Funny that… Same here!” said Packer.

“Countless times! Learned my lesson. Made a list!” answered Ruby Rusine from Social Success Marketing.

Responding to Rusine, Koch said, “Even with a list I still do this!”

Host DCSC, Inc. expressed sympathy. “Me too Ruby! I actually am even more careful and take a picture of my list.” 

“Ha! As long as we don’t forget both the list and the phone…” Rusine added.

Anna Scheller and Susannah Scheller from Capri Temporary Housing commiserated as well. “Hahah, yes,” they said. “It used to happen so often that lists prior to ever leaving for the store have become a must! But lists have made a huge difference in making sure everything is accounted for.”

“When I made Lasagna for the first time, I went to the store for Ricotta Cheese,” DCSC, Inc. said. “I bought all sorts of things but that. IMO there is no substitute, so I had to go to the store, AGAIN, and buy it. (The Lasagna did taste good though! WOOT.)”

The High Costs of Poor Inventory Control

With how inventory personally affected them at the top of their minds, host DCSC, Inc. asked participants, “What does poor inventory control cost manufacturers?”

“Time and money” Rusine answered, to which host DCSC, Inc. responded emphatically, “YES.”

Koch added, “Both are very costly indeed!”

“Soooo much,” the Schellers responded. “It often results in weird shortages that can disrupt supply chains so much that they result in loss of customers and forward momentum in progress. That can trigger a cascade of negative effects in the company.”

Replying to the Schellers, host DCSC, Inc. said, “ON POINT!”

Similar to the Schellers’ answer, Koch stated, “It could cost customer relationships. If they say they have something when they don’t or vice versa, that doesn’t indicate they have good systems or oversight, which would make me wonder…If they’re like this with inventory, how are they with production?”

Koch’s answer elicited responses from host DCSC, Inc. and Rusine. “100% Whitney,” host DCSC, Inc. responded. “Oh yes! This is crucial!” said Rusine.

“Unimaginable amounts of money, time and energy,” Packer said. “Lost stock, overstocking and redundant stock.”

Virtual assistance service provider VirtuDesk chimed in: “Just like your house, if you store excess inventory it will cost you precious warehouse space, utilities, insurance, and security. The larger the inventory, the more space is required, leading to higher expenses.”

“Exactly!” said host DCSC, Inc.

Business owner and entrepreneur Pavel Stepanov added, “I’m not into manufacturing but maintaining excessive stock levels ties up your capital that could be invested elsewhere. This ties up funds in inventory that could be used for other critical business activities.”

Host DCSC, Inc. provided this as their closing answer: “Poor inventory management can cost manufacturing businesses exponentially. Not only time, lost customers, production delays, and money, but it can also turn out to be the difference between success and failure.”

Understanding Real-Time Inventory Visibility

To take the discussion a step further, host DCSC, Inc. asked participants to explain what real-time inventory visibility means. 

The Schellers replied: “It means not only accurate sales use, but also an appropriate re-stock pace and the capability of preparing for any anticipated changes in production. It’s super important and can inform things like expansion and consolidation decisions.”

“Someone is wide awake today and on point,” host DCSC, Inc. said in response to the Schellers, who then added: “Hahah, only because we have our own inventory to run and it affects all those areas of our business!”

Host DCSC, Inc. said in acknowledgment, “Experience is the best teacher!”

“I can attest to this and endorse this message,” Packer replied to host DCSC, Inc.

Slightly uncertain about her answer, Koch said, “I think it means having an ERP or other inventory tracking system that is always up to date.”

“Knowing what you have, where it is and how many items at any one time,” Packer replied. “Using an ERP system to let you know when you need to make more or restock so you can keep your customers happy.”

Uncertain in her response, Rusine guessed, “Tracking what’s available at the present moment?”

Since she was on the right track, host DCSC, Inc. told Rusine, “BOOM Gold star for Ruby!”

“It’s an accurate prediction,” VirtuDesk commented. “Taking notes of the peak times and seasons. This involves the use of advanced technologies available in the market.”

“Perfect answer,” host DCSC, Inc. replied.

Stepanov added, “This involves technology. A system that can accurately monitor your inventory.”

Host DCSC, Inc. gave their official answer and provided insight on which manufacturing personnel benefit from inventory visibility. They said, “Real-time visibility means you know exactly what inventory you have in your facility at any time. It also means finance, customer service, operations, and plant managers all have access to accurate inventory data.”

Strategies for Achieving Real-Time Inventory Control

Next, host DCSC, Inc. asked participants how manufacturers can achieve real-time inventory control.

Rusine and Stepanov deferred to the experts to answer.

“And there’s the rub…,” Koch answered. “Processes??”

“YES!” host DCSC, Inc. emphatically replied. “Process, People and Technology all need to be aligned.”

From their outside perspective, the Schellers responded: “While we aren’t a manufacturer, we’d assume the same way we manage our inventory: monitoring and making predictions about use-age and productivity levels.”

“Contact the DCSC Team on 314-664-2200 and ask for Kirsten [Austin]!” Packer said. “She is epic on this subject.”

“I’m speaking from experience,” he added in response to host DCSC, Inc. “Having seen your [Austin’s] presentations elsewhere on the internet and the comments from your clients in recommendations and testimonials. Wear the crown with pride.”

Providing expert insight, host DCSC, Inc. recommended manufacturers invest in technology “including ERP and WMS Software combined with wireless devices to collect data through all inventory and production processes.” They clarified that WMS stands for Warehouse Management System.

Understanding the Role of People and Processes in Achieving Effective Inventory Control

Chat respondents then considered whether the right technology is all a manufacturer needs in order to have good inventory control.

“It seems like it would take more than the right technology, but we aren’t sure,” the Schellers answered.

Rusine commented: “Right technology in the hands of skilled & resourceful people/manpower. That’s my take on that!” 

“If only it were that simple!” Koch lamented. “As you [DSCC, Inc.] said earlier, you also need PEOPLE and PROCESSES.”

Replying to Koch, host DCSC, Inc. said, “Exactly, people think technology is the total answer, no it’s part of the solution but people and processes are so important coupled with technology. Also, discipline.”

“There are many out there that conflate the ability to click on a button with being an expert,” Packer responded. “You have to understand the process to get the very best out of any system.”

Replying to Packer in agreement, host DCSC, Inc. said, “Exactly and take ownership!”

“Training the personnel is really crucial!” Rusine added.

Echoing the sentiments of other respondents, VirtuDesk commented, “Technology alone, won’t. You still need people and processes to make it work.”

Closing out this portion of the conversation, host DCSC, Inc. emphasized that technology alone is not the answer. “[It] must be coupled with good operational processes. This means training your personnel, using the technology correctly, and taking ownership of your daily activities,” they said. 

Key Considerations for Maintaining Accurate Inventory Data in Real Time

To close the conversation, host DCSC, Inc. asked respondents to share what factors manufacturers should consider when striving to maintain clean and accurate inventory data.

Koch’s response included a series of questions. “How are their processes? Do they need to be updated? Are their personnel properly trained? Is the company culture such that personnel are motivated to maintain accurate data?” she said.

“Very good Whitney!” host DCSC, Inc. replied.

Packer also named several factors for manufacturers to consider. “Well training operatives. Regularly update the system. Barcoding all items to be scanned in and out of the system as it happens. (RFID tags to automate) Regular stock takes to check the veracity of the process.”

Replying to Packer, the Schellers commenced: “Woah! It’s more complicated than we thought. Super insightful response!”

“It was a multimillion £ project I worked on many years ago,” Packer elaborated. “Very interesting and fun.  We looked at Automated warehousing that only permitted people to enter for maintenance. I was all over the country looking at systems. We even went to Germany to look at their state of the art systems.  All great experience in the many aspects of supply chain management. You are a queen of the Industry Kirsten.”

Host DCSC, Inc. recommends manufacturers take these steps to keep their inventory data clean: review their bills of material and part numbers, secure who can enter or change data, stop working in silos, use wireless technology throughout inventory/materials control processes, and train their team.

Conclusion

Concluding the chat, host DCSC, Inc. shared a link to the recording of their course “Understanding the Basics of Supply Chain and Technology 101” for MNI University, adding that the presentation has lots of pieces of actionable advice for manufacturers.

Thanking DCSC, Inc. and Austin, Packer said, “Thank you Kirsten for your excellent stewardship of todays [sic] #USAMfgHour.  It once more demonstrates your expertise in  ERP and Warehouse Management Systems integration and much more.”   

About #USAMfgHour

Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.

Are you interested in hosting a #USAMfgHour chat? Contact organizers @DCSCinc, @SocialSMktg, and @KeystoneClick.

To learn more about how Keystone Click can help you level up your online presence, contact us.