Process technology in service and non manufacturing operations can be classified in the same manual, mechanized, automated format used for manufacturing process technology. But the greater diversity of the advanced process technology used in scheme that is developed for manufacturing operations does not fit so neatly into the automated technologies in a few of the myriad of sectors where they have had considerable impact in their fields.
Containerized shipping is the key to a revolution in distribution and transportation. By standardizing container sizes, it has been possible to develop national and international systems that eliminate most small unit handling and provide highly efficient systems for handling large quantities of goods. Smaller quantities are consolidated into container units for handling. The container can then be placed on flatbed trucks or railcars for overland transport. The containers are separated from their wheels when loaded on cargo vessels for international transport, and the process is reversed when overland transport is required at the destination port.
There are many benefits to containerization: better protection from damage and theft resulting in lower insurance rates; better handling times and costs, 1 to 10 times lower; and better utilization of freight vessels because of the faster turn around time in ports.
Sophisticated computer and telecommunications systems are used to support the needs of container systems. Manifests are transmitted by telecommunications since the fast turnaround usually results in a ship leaving before they can be completed. Then the containers themselves are an issue: who owns them? What types are they? Where are they? Where do they go next? What is their condition? How should the supply of containers be allocated to areas for best use? There are also financial questions: who owes who money, and for what goods and services? The computer and telecommunications technology are an integral part of the operations technology.
Air freight reaps similar benefits from containerization, and the operations problems are parallel, though to date the scale of air fright operations is smaller in weight and volumes but carrying high value items (sensitive machineries, jewelry, precious stones etc.).
It is difficult to remember how airline reservations were once handled, but the present marvels are only about 20 years old. Since the number of passengers carried on airlines has increased by a factor of five in the last 20 years. The larger airlines have interconnected national and international systems, and some airlines even have shared systems. The present system is also an integral part of the check in procedure, involving seat assignment, arrangement for special meals, baggage check in, and much more. This operations technology provides better, faster service, with fewer errors and lower costs.
Computer control has been applied to ware housing with advanced designs that will store and retrieve materials on command. Such systems have pallet loads of material fed on controlled conveyors that carry the pallet to any of several aisles and transfer it to storage cubicle, all computer directed. Because of the computer direction and control, space efficient random storage locations can be used instead of dedicated storage spaces. Other designs use carts that are guided to computer directed locations over communications lines buried in the floor. Backing up this system for operating and controlling the physical warehouse is a computer system that deals with storage and retrieval strategy the allocation of activity among stackers, the distances of alternative locations, and the turnover of older inventory.
Both semi-automatic and automatic order picking systems are in use that involves some of the same types of technology in reverse. Items are picked from storage locations based on an order list in the computer. The stackers, in combination with conveyors or computer directed carts, assemble the orders and may automatically palletize them for the shipment.
Mechanizations and automations have impacted the operations function in food markets through point of sale systems. The Universal Product Code provides a unique machine readable code for nearly every product. With front end automation provided by scanners, the checkout clerk simply passes the product over the scanner. The scanner retrieves the price from the central computer and prints the item and the price on a sales slip. Simultaneously, the sale is recorded in an inventory and automatic reordering system. The records produced can also be used for market research, cost control, and the allocation of shelf space.
The technology provides lower costs for check out, fewer errors, better information for customers on the sales slip, and faster customer service. In addition, the improved data base provides information for market research, cost control, inventory control, and other managerial needs.