GE Goes Off into the Wild Blue Yonder to Improve Deliveries

Digital upgrades provide GEA with real-time visibility across the supply chain.

By Alan Wolf, YSN

GE Appliances (GEA) is leveraging the latest information technology and machine learning tools to help make its fulfillment function smarter and more efficient.

As part of $660 million capital improvement program begun three years ago at its nine U.S. plants and distribution centers, the vendor contracted with Blue Yonder, a supply-chain software developer, to help smooth out any wrinkles in its distribution system. The investment would prove prophetic in this time of COVID-related inventory constraints.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the new software program pulls information from disparate systems like transportation and warehouse management to check stock levels and track the movement of finished goods from factory to distribution center. It then integrates that data with customer orders and, using machine learning to anticipate delays and shortages, helps the manufacturer decide how to allocate limited inventory.

Prior to the program’s rollout in March, “all those entities acted independently,” Blue Yonder senior VP Cary VandenAvond told the Journal. “This allowed them to have a layer on top of that so all the players in that network are aligned to the same priorities.”

Case in point: partial shipments. Prior to the pandemic, some retailers wouldn’t accept incomplete orders, and GEA’s legacy systems continued to hold back shipments even after inventory became scarce. Thanks to the new software platform, the vendor can now pinpoint a backlog and release merchandise to customers willing to receive a partial shipment — something “that wouldn’t have been possible before,” a GEA spokesperson said.

As GEA COO Melanie Cook told the Journal, the company’s investments in real-time visibility, including a digital upgrade to its global parts supply management system, along with added capacity, contributed to a 25 percent increase in output in the second half of the year. Nonetheless, with refrigerators doors being opened 40 percent more and laundry use up 22 percent during the coronavirus quarantines, “We’re still flat out,” she said.