Placing a Product
Buyers from the stores that sell Robosapiens don't go to the Wow Wee factory (which happens to be in China) to pick up their orders. The responsibility for getting its products to customers, called physical distribution, belongs to Wow Wee itself. To keep its customers satisfied, Wow Wee must deliver robots on time, in good shape, and in the quantity ordered. To accomplish this, Wow Wee must manage several interrelated activities: warehousing, materials handling, and transportation.
After the robots have been packaged, they're ready for sale. It would be convenient if they've already been sold and only needed to be shipped to customers, but business-to-business (B2B) transactions don't always work out this way. More often, there's a time lag between manufacture and delivery. During this period, the robots must be stored somewhere. If Wow Wee has to store a large volume over an extended period (perhaps a month or two right before the holiday season), it will keep unsold robots in a storage warehouse. On the other hand, if Wow Wee has to hold them only temporarily while they're en route to their final destinations, they'll be kept in a distribution center.
Wal-Mart, for example, maintains forty regional U.S. distribution centers at which it receives goods purchased from suppliers, sorts them, and distributes them to 4,400 stores, superstores, and Sam's Clubs around the country. Its efficiency in moving goods to its stores is a major factor in Wal-Mart's ability to satisfy customer needs. How major? "The misconception," says one senior executive "is that we're in the retail business, but in reality, we're in the distribution business".
Making, storing, and distributing Robosapien entails a good deal of materials handling – the process of physically moving or carrying goods during production, warehousing, and distribution. Someone (or some machine) needs to move both the parts that go into Robosapien and the partially finished robot through the production process. In addition, the finished robot must be moved into storage facilities and, after that, out of storage and onto a truck, plane, train, or ship. At the end of this leg of the trip, it must be moved into the store from which it will be sold.
All these activities draw on company resources, particularly labor, and there's always the risk of losing money because the robot's been damaged during the process. To sell goods at competitive prices, companies must handle materials as efficiently and inexpensively as possible. One way is by automating the process. For example, parts that go into the production of BMWs are stored and retrieved through automated sequencing centers. Cars are built on moving assembly lines made of "skillets" large enough to hold workers who move along with the car while it's being assembled. Special assistors are used to help workers handle heavy parts. For hard-to-reach areas under the car, equipment rotates the car 90 degrees and sets the undercarriage at waist level. Records on each car's progress are updated by means of a bar code that's scanned at each stage of production".
Another means of reducing materials-handling costs is called just-in-time production. Typically, companies require suppliers to deliver materials to their facilities just in time for them to go into the production process. This practice cuts the time and cost entailed by moving raw materials into and out of storage.