Material flow management refers to the practice of efficiently using materials in an industrial context. For example, a material flow manager in the manufacturing industry might consider factors such as how raw materials are transported to facilities, which kind of equipment is used to deliver materials to individual departments, and how much labor is required. The goals of most material flow management professionals is to reduce cost, use less fuel, and provide the safest possible environment for workers and for the general public. Material flow management has three different concerns: economic effects, environmental effects, and social effects.
A professional who is responsible for overseeing material flow aims to optimize processes so that cost is lowered and profit margins are increased. He or she might analyze transportation routes that delivery people use to reach facilities. They might also consider prices offered by different suppliers and supplier performance. Suppliers that consistently makes late or incorrect deliveries probably are causing a client business to lose money. A material flow management professional either might contact suppliers to express dissatisfaction with their performances or find new vendors with which to work.
When performed effectively, material flow management can use energy more efficiently and create less waste. A common goal of material flow professionals is to purchase only materials that have real value. For this reason, managers aim to reduce waste and use minimal amounts of energy. The health and safety of the general public also are considered to be important factors in material flow management. For these reasons, many sustainability advocates also are proponents of this managerial method.
Professionals who would like to practice material flow management often rely on software that enables them to compare performances of different departments, as well as performances in different quarters. For example, to make sure that inventory numbers are accurate, a manager might observe charts that allow him or her to observe trends and compose a reasonable outlook. A manager also can use software to calculate quantities and costs for bills of materials.
Fleet management can be an important aspect of material flow management. A manager can use a global positioning system (GPS), for example, which allows him or her to track the locations and routes of his or her drivers. Managers also can supply their fleet drivers with mobile devices that enable them to access intelligence when they are making deliveries. Effective fleet management also enables professionals to track and reduce fuel usage.