Today’s consumer has ever-higher expectations for purchasing convenience, delivery speed, choice and adaptability. More options for consumers spell greater complexity for the supply chain. It’s no longer enough to fulfil demand – you must anticipate it, predict it and make smarter, faster decisions.
“Supply chain operations are under pressure to adopt new business models and technologies to excel in an increasingly complex and volatile world.
Supply chain leaders must identify where to innovate and invest in new processes and technologies to help their companies remain relevant in their markets.” - C. Dwight Klappich, Vice President Analyst - Gartner
Rising tariffs, labour shortage, trucking capacity crunch, security threats and natural disasters are some of main challenges currently facing supply chains worldwide.
In addition to reducing operating costs, businesses are pushed to find new ways to stay competitive. A lean supply chain approach means minimising, as much as possible, the amount of product touches in every step of the chain. The more a product is touched, the higher the opportunity for human/handling errors.
The same idea is applied to data: entering the same data multiple times across different spreadsheets or systems is not only a waste of time but also increases the risk of mistakes and inaccuracy. With resources tight and competitive pressure relentless, businesses are pushed to revaluate their manual / legacy systems and invest in new solutions.
New technologies are reinventing supply chains, by digitally connecting every manufacturing, fulfiling and distributing process in a holistic view. Software solutions and networked devices are significantly boosting efficiency and productivity.
Currently, the main technological trends for supply chain include Augmented Reality, Autonomous Vehicles, Intelligent Process Automation and 3D Printing. We briefly discuss them below:
VR / AR
Augmented Reality (or Virtual Reality) is an interactive experience where reality is extended by computer-generated information. It provides users with an enhanced composite view of the real-world. From simulation virtual reality headsets to everyday smart glasses, this technology can bring value and excitement through multiple applications and industries.
For supply chains, augmented reality can revolutionise day-to-day operations. The technology has the potential to enhance numerous activities from training programs, through logistics, to equipment operation. Visual and voice devices open the door to a new multi-modal picking process for a seemingly hands-free experience.
AR can also be beneficial from a customer experience perspective. Technology enables customers to visit a virtual store where they can learn more about a product or even test/trial it.
“Autonomous vehicles have a much more serious and quantifiable impact on supply chain logistics and operations than their potential for transporting people.” - Mike RamseySenior Research Director, Automotive and Smart Mobility, Gartner
Autonomous Vehicles have great potential for improving existing transportation services, moving everything from passengers to packages. From self-driving trucks to robots and drones, the race is on and every major carrier and retailer wants to be the first to launch an AI driven delivery service!
Advocates claim that autonomous trucks will be a panacea, virtually eliminating traffic accidents, congestion, parking problems and pollution emissions. Delivery robots and drones also promise to solve a myriad of last-mile problems.
Although these solutions may be expensive to develop and retail, they’re certainly cheaper to operate than their manned counterparts. We discussed the main pros and cons of each autonomous delivery modality in this article.
IPA (or RPA)
Intelligent Process Automation (or Robotic Process Automation) typically uses artificial intelligence (AI) to handle repetitive, rules-based tasks. This technology is the next frontier for businesses looking to streamline processes, increase productivity and ultimately improve their bottom-line.
A 2017 study from the McKinsey global consultancy reported that the IPA market is expected to grow 70 to 90 percent by 2020 because successful pilot projects are inspiring buyer confidence in the technology. The study also predicted that the rising tide of automation could provoke substantial workplace transformations in the next decade.
Technology could replace up to 375 million employees worldwide by 2030, the McKinsey authors estimate. However, this doesn’t mean human labour is at risk: robots are usually employed to perform repetitive and predicable tasks. According to the report automation will have a lesser effect on jobs that involve managing people, applying expertise, and social interactions, where machines are unable to match human performance for now.
By no means a new topic within supply chain technology, 3D printing has been making headlines again this year.
3D printing offers two main advantages for manufacturing: the ability to produce on-demand and personalized goods and the ability to mass produce parts /components more cheaply and with consistent quality.
Data Analytics and Visibility
The increasing complexity of supply chain management has brought to the forefront the need for technological solutions that support operational visibility and transparency throughout internal processes. Access to information is the driving force of business today. Information allows us to make better strategic plans, educated business decisions, and to forecast more accurately.
Two main technological trends are driving higher visibility and better data analytics in supply chain: IoT and AI.
“The incorporation of IoT data is another core element in digital supply chain initiatives. In a sense, IoT is nothing new in supply chain, as real-time WMS and fleet management solutions have been in use for a couple decades. However, the scale at which digital edge technologies are producing useful data has expanded exponentially since then.” - Forbes
The Internet of Things can improve organizations’ ability to gain real-time visibility of their supply chain, thus allowing them to not only promptly respond to problems but, more importantly, anticipate and prevent them more effectively. IoT can have a profound impact on logistics and inventory management.
AI and Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence is now advanced enough to automate numerous supply chain processes such as predictive maintenance and demand forecasting.
Additionally, machine learning is set to revolutionize warehouse and logistics management by creating greater inter-connectivity and efficiency while reducing the risk of human error. This will allow for better allocation of resources, improving productivity and increasing profitability.
Moreover, machine learning can exponentially improve report generation and fill many previously blank gaps for managers, allowing better allocation of resources and resulting in higher profitability.
The main advantages AI and machine leaning can offer supply chain are:
Creating better logistics schedules;
Forecasting ideal inventory quantities to meet clients’ demands, reducing overstock and allowing companies to better prepare for busy periods;
Generating better analysis of risk factors that affect product pricing, allowing managers to secure higher profit levels;
Higher shipping accuracy and speed (by calculating the best routes incorporating traffic information);
Ability to report on consumer trends, allowing managers to better match their product offerings with their customers’ needs
Arguably the mostly reported supply chain trend this year, blockchain has the potential to fulfil long-standing challenges including traceability, automation, and security. It can also help with achieving cost reductions (especially backoffice costs), shortened transaction processing times and improved cash flow.
“Organisations might use blockchain to track global shipments with tamper-evident labels, allowing a reduction in the time needed to send paperwork back and forth with port authorities and improved counterfeit identification” - Gartner
The main advantages to using blockchain include:
Ability for two or more companies to directly transact with each other without the interference from financial institutions;
Security against counterfeiting
Increased traceability and efficiency
“The traditional economy is linear: take resources, make a product, use the product, dispose of the waste. The future looks different, as avoidable waste production will be considered unacceptable by society. This means that supply chain leaders have to embrace a circular economy in which a used product is returned, recycled and then reused in some way.” - Gartner
Circularity means recycling, remanufacturing and refurbishment to minimise the use of raw resources and creation of waste. Macy’s partnership with ThredUp and Amazon’s move to donate (rather than destroy) unsold merchandise are just some examples of how big brands are trying to comply with consumer’s push for sustainability.
In today’s fast-paced business environment, companies are struggling to keep high levels of accuracy and meeting customers’ expectations for ever decreasing delivery windows.
In order to remain competitive, they need to take a holistic approach to automating their supply chains. The key is to select the right technological innovations that will fulfil your business’ needs.
“We expect that the supply chain of the future will undergo a major transformation process. At the end of this process, supply chains will act “on their own” with the ability to self-regulate and take appropriate actions, and as a result, will increase and augment the capabilities of humans well beyond what is known today.” - Gartner
In a high volume, complex logistics environment, the shift to an on-demand model can be challenging – but failing to adapt poses even greater risks.
You need a technology partner with a proven track record of delivering efficiency and a lower cost of ownership today, plus the flexibility and innovation to help you realize your strategic roadmap tomorrow and beyond.
iWMS Australasia utilizes HighJump technology, a solution that can be scaled and tailored to meet any business needs. HighJump integrates proven solutions for the warehouse, transportation and logistics ecosystem with emerging technologies from around the world to build the supply chain of the future. Leveraging advanced cloud technology, we can help you ride the wave of data to achieve greater efficiency, uncover actionable insights, and stay ahead of the curve!