Warehouse OperationDo you fit the profile of business owners who want larger warehouses? Seventy-one percent of respondents to a 2014 study by Motorola wanted either to acquire another facility or to increase the size of their current building. There are usually a couple of obvious reasons:

  • The volume of your business is growing, and/or
  • You are expanding your product lines

If you are confident this growth is sustainable, you need the extra space so warehouse expansion seems like a good idea. After all, the economy appears to be turning around with an uptick in consumer spending, resulting in an increase in manufacturing. Also, e-commerce is enjoying a huge popularity with no end in sight. Huge warehouses are a staple for online businesses which must be ready to respond instantly to customer demands.

Technology Considerations for Warehouse Expansion

However, there’s more to warehouse expansion than leasing another building and buying product to fill it. Do you have the technology solution in place to manage that extra product, especially if it is located at several sites? Handling more products usually means managing more personnel too. At IntelliTrack, we have a team of specialists just waiting to discuss your particular situation and see how we can help you.

We understand the complexities of a warehouse operation. There are many points where human error can be a problem in receiving and storing product and processing customer orders. An IntelliTrack barcode or RFID solution can minimize, if not eliminate mistakes in labeling, storing, accessing and shipping your inventory.

The larger you grow your operation, the more opportunity there is for making mistakes. In order to plan for foolproof inventory management, start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you handle consumable inventory, fixed assets or both?
  • Consumable items come into your system, are processed and move out. This includes products that are stored or manufactured, then shipped to customers.
  • Fixed assets are part of your property inventory, are used or deployed and then returned. This includes your own equipment, tools and supplies and items that are sent out, perhaps leased to customers and then returned.
  • What information do you need about the product in the warehouse, including lot and serial numbers, vendor, expiry data, condition, size and color?
  • Do you need to validate shipping against predefined orders?
  • What information do you need about stock levels, including re-order alerts and data on surpluses?
  • How often do you do physical counts?
  • What do you need to know about employee performance, including equipment usage and time taken for receiving, storing, picking and shipping?
  • Do you need to track assets or equipment that is deployed repeatedly?
  • Do you require real time data in order to monitor operations?
  • What kind of reports do you need to make management decisions for planning operations and financial management?

All this information will form your decision about a warehouse management system. The best technology in the world is ineffective if it does not meet your particular needs. 

Technology Solutions for Managing Warehouse Inventory

There are many software solutions available for managing your warehouse inventory. A sampling includes:

You are probably looking for a mobile solution to increase the productivity of your warehouse workers. Issue each one with a mobile device for capturing data for storage in a central file and accessing picking and shipping orders and any other information needed to keep product moving.

Scalability is an important feature of a successful software solution. If you are considering expansion of your warehouse operations, you want to be sure any technology will be able to accommodate the increase in product, vendors and customers.

Integration into larger information systems is also important to save time and duplicate work. Link a WMS solution to an accounting system such as QuickBooks, to shipping providers such as WorldShip and even to your security information system if there are concerns about inventory loss.

Decision Making Process for Warehouse Technology

Whether you are making the leap from a manual or spreadsheet inventory system or upgrading your current electronic system, you will probably need expert help in considering the options available. The IntelliTrack team can walk with you through the decision making process:

  • Review of current operations and plans for expansion
  • Identify points where technology can support the operations based on answers to the questions about your consumable and fixed inventory
  • Discuss benefits of incorporating a warehouse
  • Review with you the pros and cons of various warehouse management technology solutions, both software and hardware
  • Recommend solutions and support your decision making
  • Facilitate installation, training and implementation of warehouse management solutions
  • Arrange for ongoing support services

Benefits of Expanding with Warehouse Management Technology

An attractive ROI is important when considering expansion of your warehouse operations. Even when you know the market is there and the product is available, you do have to consider how quickly you can amortize the upfront capital expenses such as:

  • Buying, building or expanding a facility
  • Customizing the building design including dock and yard
  • Purchasing/leasing additional warehouse equipment
  • New or additional technology hardware and software for inventory management

IntelliTrack reps would be pleased to show you the kind of savings you would realize if you move from a pen and paper inventory to WMS technology. For example, a small warehouse operation can save 90% in labor cost using barcode technology instead of manual inventory counts.

The procedures you are following in your warehouse now might not work as effectively in an expanded operation. It is important to have a WMS system that allows you to monitor the entire end-to-end process. Such technology is efficient and accurate, increasing productivity, reducing picking and shipping errors and increasing customer satisfaction.

Contact our IntelliTrack team to help you plan for a WMS solution to be built into your warehouse expansion plan right from the beginning.

IntelliTrack Warehouse Management SoftwareManaging the inventory of a warehouse or distribution center can be an exercise in frustration. There are many points where errors in labeling, storage location or stock levels can leave employees frustrated and customers very unhappy. Working in multiple locations can add complications.

Warehouse management technology is a good solution and even better when part of an integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. IntelliTrack, an industry leader in inventory management products, offers several technology solutions for successful inventory management of all sizes of warehouse operations. They also have the experience and expertise to recommend options for integration with ERP.

Warehouse Management Inventory Solutions

IntelliTrack WMS is a robust, cost effective solution for managing inventory through the warehouse and distribution system. It is available in three versions:

Depending on the operational needs, available features include:

  • Physical inventory, shipping, receiving and picking system
  • Terminal messaging
  • Pallet tracking
  • Cross dock notification
  • Sequenced pick and put away
  • Wave and zone picking

The entire inventory can be managed from one dashboard, including product search by item description or location, browsing and generating reports.

ERP Integration

Warehouse employees and supervisors know their work is the primary focus of their warehouse/distribution operations but they do need the support of many other business functions to run a successful operation. An Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system facilitates the flow of information among all the business units and can even manage contacts with external stakeholders.

How ERP Works

An ERP solution is really a suite of applications such as WMS that are managed through one common database. It can support various hardware and applications even for mobile devices while maintaining a consistent look and feel for the user. For example, data is transmitted from a warehouse worker to the centralized database where it is processed and any net changes, orders or reports sent back to the user and/or on to other support services and management.

IntelliTrack WMS has the capacity to be integrated into a full feature ERP system which might use a common database for:

  • Supply chain management, including inventory info that triggers purchasing, promoting specials on overstock or moving stock to different location
  • Processing orders from receiving, cross docking and generating picking orders and shipping labels to sending a re-order alert to purchasing
  • Accounting functions, including processing payments for product received, invoicing for product shipped, managing cash flow and preparing financial statements; e.g. WMS can connect with Quickbooks
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) from sales and marketing to customer service
  • Human Resources function which includes recruiting, training, managing payroll and benefits and performance reviews
  • Self-service access to information for suppliers, customers and/or employees

Benefits of ERP Integration

Although the ERP concept was originally developed for large companies, it quickly became obvious that any size of organization can benefit from system organizations. There are two primary focuses for reviewing the benefits of integrating IntelliTrack WMS into a larger ERP system.

  • Operations

A well designed ERP solution increases efficiencies and productivity such as:

  • Eliminates entering data more than once in various information systems such as purchasing or generating shipping labels, allowing employees more time to communicate with each other about operations
  • Provides real time data including location, stock levels, expiry dates and status of product
  • Allows every authorized person access to the same real time data
  • Management

Having WMS integrated into an ERP system with one central dashboard is cost effective and efficient as it:

    • Provides up to date info for monitoring operations
    • Provides info for performance management of individual and work teams by providing reports on time spent and cost of each activity
    • Identifies inconsistencies and potential problems such as stock shortages that are not triggering re-order alerts, all affecting customer relations
    • Maximizes the capacity of all the company technology, decreasing dependency on several information systems, each with its own capacity and maintenance issues
    • Decreases the amount of IT support needed
    • Supports quality assurance initiatives which can lead to improvement in the routine operations and the overall business process
    • Provides comprehensive reports to support any expansion plans for the business; the more complex the business, the more important it is to have a coordinating function
    • Produces customized financial reports to reflect the various business processes and allow for more specific financial management decisions

Overall, the data available from having IntelliTrack WMS integrated into an ERP system allows employees to be more productive and management to be more strategic. An integrated information system is more flexible and responsive to change than an organization with compartmentalized processes. Management can plan and even test operational changes. As soon as the implementation goes live, they receive immediate feedback on how those changes impact the work and results across the entire operation.

Management decisions about operational changes, budgets and staffing models will be evidence based. This increases the feasibility of moving in a certain direction. The integrated model also allows for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of changes which leads to problem prevention or early intervention.

IntelliTrack WMS solutions are available for any size and kind of warehouse. However, their effectiveness can be greatly enhanced if they are attached to a company-wide ERP system.

Contact the IntelliTrack team of specialists to start the discussion of installing or upgrading your warehouse inventory management system.

As executives who work in procurement find themselves under more pressure to provide value for their stakeholders, they must come up with new and innovative ways to achieve a streamlined supply chain. In 2015, they will need to look at their procurement operations and focus on how to extract the most value by looking at their goals and processes.

The level of expectation placed on procurement is growing at a fast pace and managers need to take control, or risk being left behind. In order to help with this, let’s review the five major areas that will effect operations this year.

Organizational Alignment
The first is organizational alignment, which will require more emphasis in the coming year in order to stay ahead of the curve. In order to do this, procurement needs to improve upon the relationships it has with other aspects of the organization—finance, sales, marketing, R&D, etc. If these relations are improved, it will mean that procurement is moving towards delivering the amount of value required by the business and it’s stakeholders.

Inventory Strategies
The second area to look at is inventory strategy. The rise of multi-channel retail means that simplification of the supply chain and shortening the life cycles of products and new technology are of utmost importance to leaders in procurement. In 2015, they will have to focus on strategies that can optimize their ever-expanding inventory network and help improve the service they provide to the customer.

Performance Management
The third area is performance management in real-time. Central to this will be cloud-based software, which is now crucial to the supply chain, especially when it comes to purchasing. Procurement leaders will be able to build on their relationships with partners in sourcing and have more insight into the supplier base, which will ultimately help save money.

Emerging Markets
The fourth area is emerging markets as a source of growth. These include markets in Asia and South America, which have been identified as sources of growth in logistics and manufacturing. 2015 will see supply chain executives capitalize on these, which will, in turn, have a significant effect on the supply chain. As a result, pricing, product design and logistics will all be impacted.

The fifth and final thing to note is that suppliers will become partners in the sharing of information related to problems you might share. This will provide procurement with more information than just what is related to product specifications, as they will be able to see how their suppliers solve problems.

The market for warehouse management systems continues to grow at a rate of about 6% per year. This growth is driven by the economic landscape, which has been improving and thus encouraging companies to devote more of their budget to technology. This money is showing up in the DC, bringing a more streamlined system that is much more visible and easily analyzed. It also goes towards upgrading and replacing existing, outdated solutions.

Let’s examine this growth and the state of the WMS market currently—find out which are the key trends in the industry and highlight the technological developments on the horizon.

WMS Harnesses the Power of the Cloud

Dwight Klappis, VP of research for Gartner, says that there has been a rapid trend for companies adopting cloud-based WMS solutions. Worries over whether to protect data with a firewall or open it up to the web, and worries over performance and scalability, have been put to one side. Cloud-based management systems have become a preference for the majority of shipping companies.

WMS Continue to Evolve

Even though WMS is the major player in supply chain software, the makers of products are still seeking to find ways to improve their service. This attitude is motivated by the needs of their customers, and the innovations come in many shapes & sizes. For example, at a basic level, the vendors of software are focusing on the development of solutions to support processes like cross docking, multiple manufacturer facilities and bypass shipments.

WMS Goes International

Demand for WMS shows up outside of the US as well—emerging markets are said to be about 15 – 20 years behind the WMS systems of companies operating in established markets. In emerging markets, businesses are evolving towards a point where even rudimental developments in WMS are becoming extremely important, and are set to gain a greater foothold as businesses continue to strive towards meeting orders in an efficient and timely manner.

What do you see in store for WMS? Share your thoughts by commenting on our Facebook or twitter pages.

There is much speculation about the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) will have on the transportation industry, though as yet there is not much implementation. The benefit of its application will be in filling the shortage of workers in the logistics industry. Now is the time to make a new strategy for distribution networks as part of the ongoing digital revolution.

E-commerce is extending into B2B transactions, nano stores are becoming popular and we now have a circular economy. Due to these factors, the flow of goods will gain speed, increasing in frequency and intricacy. Over the next ten years, packing density, which is the amount of order lines per meter cubed, will grow by five to ten times. The cost of transport or storage will not be the major influence on the organization of distribution networks. This will rely on how efficiently goods can be handled, and the logistics industry is changing due to developing technologies.

There are three such developments that will have a major impact upon distribution networks, they are: Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T), autonomous transport, which will transport goods over these networks, and the developments in warehousing technology.

TEN-T is a group of ten designated transport links which cross national borders which will be built and developed by the European Commission until 2030, and will include innovation over railways, roads and water. The objective is to firm up the transport infrastructure in Europe by implementing intelligent management systems to the transport network, in the hope that costs will come down. The new network will be safe and robust, and will carry goods uninterrupted and reliably along it’s corridors between Europe’s major hubs.

Autonomous transport in the form of unmanned trucks is becoming more possible with developments in AI. Wireless technology will be used to interconnect ‘road trains’ with a manually controlled truck at the front. They will need to have the capacity for enough volume and frequency; therefore distribution centers will need to be enormous in order for logistics companies to combine the flow of transport across chains in order to deliver more frequency & reliability.

Distribution centers are also becoming what is known as ‘dark stores’, where robots, RFID chips, automated case picking, GS1 pallet labels, dock & roll and pick by voice are the technologies which are combining to handle the increased intricacy and frequency of deliveries, and DC productivity has been increasing exponentially as a result of their implementation.

The ever-expanding UK distribution and logistics sector is a significant slice of the economy as a whole, providing a large amount of employment. The challenge is to meet the needs of the industry in terms of skilled workers in order to continue expanding and provide the service customers require.

This article is aimed at establishing the skills requirement of the distribution and logistics industry, and it is also intended to establish the reasons for investing in skills education. In order to do this, the example of a couple of skills and training providers from Sheffield City will be used to establish how training providers work with the industry to meet their skills requirements.

The UK’s distribution and logistics industry encompasses over 187,000 businesses and is worth £93 billion per annum to the national economy and it provides employment for 2.25 million workers—approximately 8% of the entire workforce. During this decade, these numbers are predicted to increase. Data from Skills for Logistics, which is the industries skills sector, estimates that an additional 917,000 workers will need to found during the decade from 2010 to 2020.

Further data from the National Skills Academy suggests that a shortage in skills is having a negative impact upon logistics and warehousing operations. These shortages are undoubtedly bad for business and have a detrimental effect on the balance sheets. For example;

  • 47% of respondents claim to have difficulty recruiting because they can’t find applicants who meet their skills requirements
  • 20% claim that applicants didn’t meet their qualification requirements
  • 54% claim that the failure to fill vacancies increased their operating costs
  • 47% claim that the failure to fill vacancies made achieving customer satisfaction more difficult
  • 39% claim that the failure to fill vacancies mad it more difficult to achieve standards in quality

The Sheffield City Region is a national hotspot for logistics companies, where the sector has grown by 29.5 % in the period since 2009. This growth brings with it an increased need to invest in skills and training for the industry. In the region it is provided by Barnsley and Doncaster colleges, whom work closely with companies such as Aldi, Amazon and DHL in order to provide the training they expect their employees to have.

Both colleges have a dedicated sector specializing in Warehouse Logistics and Retail to counter the growing demand, and are considering a development comprising of two completely new Warehouse Academies close to their respective campuses. These colleges clearly have both the capabilities and funding available to meet the need for training, skills development and qualifications required by the distribution and logistics sector, leading to more profit for all concerned.

3d printingThe progress of 3D printing technology has been rapid. It has moved from it’s initial state as a tool for making simple polymer objects as the invention of Charles Hull in the 80’s, to building complex parts for race cars, aircrafts and even human organs and prosthetics.

The business community is starting to embrace the potential of 3D printing as a tool for more efficient and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes. Canalys, an analysis company, anticipates that the worldwide market for 3D printing will be worth $16.2 billion by the year 2018. With an increase in adoption, 3D printing will bring a revolution in manufacturing, including the supply chain and everything that involves—including logistics.

Manufacturing can be outsourced to locations where it can be completed for a low-cost. However, the global logistics process is not due to the cost of transport. This problem can be addressed using 3D printing to locate manufacturing plants closer to the intended market. This will reduce the geographical distance covered by the supply chain and also have a positive impact on the carbon footprint.

The new manufacturing plants can also help companies to deal with inventory problems, specifically the industrial parts and consumer based sectors that provide specialist products. 3D printers will help manufacturers to efficiently produce bespoke goods, saving money and reducing waste.

As the 3D printing processes become more efficient, new businesses based on a quick turnaround will emerge and traditional manufacturers will move to produce more technical and specialized components. More common products will be made by 3D shops and inexpensive one-off products will eventually be made by consumers themselves. By simply purchasing and downloading a program for the 3D printer, consumers will be able to purchase items such as plastic toys, smart-phone cases, and more!

These developments are not imminent, but they will happen eventually. What needs to be understood at this stage is the potential for an increase in the speed of trade brought about by 3D printing. Companies will need to re-evaluate supply chain management processes in order to handle the impact of 3D printing.

There are legitimate concerns that this type of manufacturing will lead to more consumption, and therefore, more waste. However, the materials used in 3D printing processes are largely recyclable plastics that have been through a heat treatment process. This brings the possibility to reverse the supply chain approach—consumers will be able to recycle old unwanted plastic goods by returning them to a local 3D printing outlet, where they will be sent to be re-processed into a plastic filament for 3D printers.

How do you think 3D printing will impact the manufacturing industry?

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As part of his mission to gain a better understanding of out-of-stocks (OOS), Dan Gilmore, president and editor-in-chief of Supply Chain Digest, has held a recent discussion on how extra inventory can be driven by lead time variability. For those who do not protect themselves from lead time variability, there is the prospect of more out-of-stock (OOS) occurrences. In each occurrence of variability in the supply chain, it is important to protect it with increasing inventory, capacity, or time, by making customers wait or an increase in OOS.

Gilmore also released an online inventory calculator to make the concepts more clear and demonstrates the impact of a reduced lead time. The math of the calculation is difficult, but the underlying intuition is less so—a late shipment means that you must have the inventory in reserve in order to meet demand in the meantime. Therefore, reducing lead-time variability has a significant impact on OOS or inventory.

He also states that in spite of the evidence pointing to how important lead time variability is, only a very small amount of companies track it.

Problems arise from the fact that it’s not always easy to get insight into lead time and variability. Existing systems are not yet equipped to track it. Here are three areas defined as those to measure in order to be able to measure lead time and variability. Each should be measured separately, as they display different characteristics:

Transit Time
The first is transit time. Transit time is measured from when a product departs the suppliers’ dock and arrives at your companies dock. This is the most straight-forward area as the data is accessible. A calculation can be made between all of the transit times by calculating an average and standard amount of deviation. It’s made slightly more difficult by shipping via a variety of platforms and these should be taken into account, e.g. the difference between ocean shipping and air freight must be taken into account, and a decision whether to calculate the dominant method or a blend must be taken.

Order to Ship Time
The second is the order to ship time—the time between when the order is placed and when it is shipped. For suppliers, this is comparatively easy, by measuring when the order was placed, having visibility of the shipment data and knowing when the item shipped. It gets more complex if the order changes frequently or the PO is open. In this case it could be tough to decipher when the order was placed. It’s even harder if you are dealing with your own plant, in this case it is the time from when you made another batch until the item ships.

Replenishment Frequency
The third is replenishment frequency—the extra time occurring from periodical production. If you place an order once a week, that’s an extra week of lead-time. Even daily orders are subject to how often they are shipped. Unless the production schedule is fixed this can lead to difficulty, variations in production must be factored into lead-time calculations.

Need help with your inventory management? Find the right solution for you.

It has become apparent to companies in all sectors that their supply chain is more than just making sure products get into the hands of consumers. Supply chains have become an indicator of the overall health of a business by reflecting corporate strategy applied to everyday interactions from within and outside of the company. The supply chain is crucial in achieving customer satisfaction. Successful companies see it in a broader way, by including information sharing, planning and other value adding activities. The supply chain must cover everything from the raw materials used in production, to the final distribution of products, as well as logistical concerns.

Successful companies have invested wisely in their supply chains— this investment can go a long way and is one of the most cost effective strategies any company can apply to their growth portfolio. The execution of an effective supply chain operation can have a multitude of benefits and move business performance forward. Here are three interventions that senior company executives can carry out in order to achieve the full potential of their companies supply chain operation.

Think Separately About the Supply Chain and Other Corporate Strategies

Regardless of whether it is the goal of your company to provide superior service, cost leadership, or product innovation, it is of the upmost importance to make sure the supply chain is contributing to the key points of your strategy. Consult the leaders of your business to help define how to make the supply chain work for the company. For example, the marketing department should be able to describe what the customer values by analyzing and providing data relating to their needs and thus, providing the ability to differentiate from the strategies of your competitors. The commercial arm of your business should be able to identify which of your customers are worthy of the cost of an enhanced service and which you should attribute the standard service to.

Develop End-to-End, Up-to-Date Supply Chain Protocols

It is no longer effective to manage different supply chain tiers separately. The ability to analyze data in a sophisticated manner means companies are able to manage their supply chains from end-to-end and in an up-to-date manner, especially in the retail sector. Companies should dedicate a manager to ensuring that end-to-end performance is at a premium level across all departments.

Outline Performance Standards Across the Organization

Incentivize the supply chain to work towards defining ways to deliver more value for the company and protect it against the larger risks at the same time. In order to achieve this, the company must look to analyze beyond the traditional outlooks on capital, cost, and service. The performance indicators that should be looked at depend on what the needs of the business are, which segment of the market you are aiming for, and the product. Besides this, it is important to understand the production costs attributed to valuable clients, the stability of key suppliers, and being agile in volatile markets.

Find the right software to help manage your supply chain.

Most of the worlds top companies understand how important it is to have a supply chain management system in place in order to remain competitive.

Chief executives are beginning to realize that supply chains have become a strategic asset to their company—both for the purpose of fulfilling customer expectations and creating a more efficient operation. IBM has recently published a study via their Institute for Business Value, which contains information to support these claims.

According to the study, executives who preside over high performing enterprises attribute a lot of their success to their supply chain management systems. Of all those surveyed, 65% claim that their supply chain is a great help when it comes to customer satisfaction and 62% say that the supply chain is very effective as a tool for generating more revenue.

The findings of the study are supported by recent interviews of two executives from leading companies who are not directly responsible for supply chain logistics. In the interviews, the executives were asked questions about how they viewed the role of a supply chain as part of their wider operation and as part of their specific enterprise. In addition, they were asked how the role of the supply chain has changed over the last number of years and how it enhances their balance sheet, ability to innovate, please their customers and provide a competitive advantage.

Kees Kruythoff, president of Unilever in North America, claimed that the supply chain is absolutely crucial in Unilever’s success, mostly because of it’s role in providing value for customers. As the environment begins to resemble an omni-channel one, need for a modular, flexible and responsive supply chain management system at a low cost becomes more pressing.

Kruythoff claims that as the business environment becomes increasingly digitized and interconnected, the role of the supply chain will become more prominent. His colleague Salwan Sumeet, who is senior vice president of human resources, claims that it creates value across three important areas; firstly and most obviously, as a tool for delivering cost effectiveness, secondly, in service of brand preference by providing quality of product and service and finally, as a device for enhancing growth. All three are part of a response to customer needs and demands.

Another example of a CEO who is seeing the benefits of a supply chain management system is Edward Cooper, VP of PR and communications at Total Wine & More. He is convinced that the supply chain is vital to his company as it strives to succeed in the heavily regulated alcoholic beverage industry. Cooper claims that besides helping his company succeed, supply chain actually delivers profitably and growth as well, and re-enforces the companies position for the future.

For Total Wine & More, the supply chain team is responsible for facilitating the movement of products between their suppliers and retail outlets. The team is concerned with ensuring that the right product is in the right place at the right time for their customers, and it does this by keeping an eye on inventory, orders and re-stocking functions.

The amount of regulation from the tax authorities in the U.S applied to the distributors of alcohol make protecting these areas of the business absolutely crucial. Total Wine & More sees this situation from the perspective of a company whom wants to grow along with their wholesalers and producers. They are big enough to build brands that benefits wholesalers, producers and customers alike, and their efficient supply chain is helping them to consistently deliver.

Does your organization see efficient supply chain management as a pathway to success? Share your thoughts by commenting on this post.

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