Failure to understand new technologies and adapt to a morphing supply chain can end your career.
The efficiency and effectiveness of these supply chains have a direct impact on a company’s competitiveness and profitability. In recent years, emerging technologies have been driving significant transformations in supply chain management, promising greater efficiency, transparency, and responsiveness. This essay explores the top 11 emerging technologies with the greatest potential to impact supply chain efficacy. For each technology, we will provide a definition and examples of their use and value.
Definition: Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that records transactions in a secure and transparent manner. It offers a decentralized and tamper-resistant way to track the movement of assets and information.
Use and Value: Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize supply chains by enhancing transparency and traceability. It can be used to verify the authenticity of products, reduce counterfeiting, and ensure the integrity of the supply chain data. For example, major retailers have successfully implemented blockchain to trace the origin of food products, reducing the time it takes to trace the source of contaminated goods from days to seconds.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Definition: IoT refers to the network of interconnected physical devices and objects that can collect and exchange data. These devices, equipped with sensors and connectivity, can provide real-time information about their status and environment.
Use and Value: IoT enables the creation of a more responsive supply chain. Sensors placed on goods, vehicles, and equipment can provide real-time data on their location, condition, and performance. This data can be used to optimize routes, predict maintenance needs, and monitor inventory levels. For instance, logistics companies use IoT to track the temperature and humidity of perishable goods during transport to ensure product quality.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Definition: Artificial intelligence involves the development of computer systems capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making.
Use and Value: AI can significantly enhance supply chain operations by optimizing demand forecasting, inventory management, and route planning. Machine learning algorithms can analyze historical data to make more accurate predictions, reducing overstock and understock situations. Leading e-commerce retailers, for instance, use AI to forecast demand and manage their vast inventory efficiently, ensuring timely deliveries.
Definition: Robotics involves the design, creation, and use of robots to perform tasks autonomously or semi-autonomously. In the supply chain, robots can be used for tasks like picking, packing, and sorting.
Use and Value: Robots increase the efficiency and speed of supply chain processes, especially in warehouses and distribution centers. Companies across a wide variety of industries and market channels employ robots for order picking and sorting, reducing human labor and errors. These robots work collaboratively with human workers, improving overall productivity.
Definition: Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can be controlled remotely or autonomously. They are used in supply chains for various tasks, including aerial surveillance and delivery.
Use and Value: Drones offer rapid and cost-effective solutions for inventory management, surveillance, and last-mile delivery. Home delivery e-commerce retailers are beta testing drones for package delivery, potentially reducing delivery times to a matter of minutes in some cases while minimizing the environmental impact.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Definition: Augmented reality is a technology that overlays digital information, such as images or data, onto the real-world environment. AR is commonly used with wearable devices like smart glasses.
Use and Value: In supply chains, AR can assist workers by providing real-time information and visual cues. Warehouse employees equipped with AR glasses can receive instructions for picking items, which reduces errors and increases efficiency. Much like voice technology or bar-code scanning, this human-machine interface (HMI) has been successfully deployed to optimize their order fulfillment processes.
Definition: Autonomous vehicles, including self-driving trucks and drones, can operate without human intervention. These vehicles use various sensors and AI to navigate and make decisions.
Use and Value: Autonomous vehicles are poised to transform transportation and logistics. Sensors and AI enable autonomous vehicles to improve safety, reduce fuel consumption, and enhance delivery speed. Several technology companies are designing and deploying autonomous over-the-road vehicles for passenger transportation as well as long-haul freight, which can operate continuously, reducing the need for rest breaks and addressing driver shortages.
Definition: 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a technology that creates physical objects by layering material on top of itself based on a digital model.
Use and Value: 3D printing offers supply chains the potential for decentralized and on-demand production. This technology allows for the rapid creation of prototypes, spare parts, and even entire products, reducing lead times and the need for extensive inventories. Aerospace companies use 3D printing to manufacture aircraft components, reducing production time and costs.
Big Data Analytics
Definition: Big data analytics involves the collection, processing, and analysis of vast datasets to uncover patterns, trends, and insights.
Use and Value: Big data analytics can provide supply chains with actionable insights. By analyzing large datasets from various sources, companies can make informed decisions about demand forecasting, inventory optimization, and supplier performance. Major retailers use big data analytics to understand customer behavior and tailor their inventory accordingly.
Definition: Edge computing refers to the processing of data at or near the source of data generation rather than in a centralized data center.
Use and Value: In supply chains, edge computing can provide real-time processing of data from IoT devices and sensors. This allows for quicker decision-making and reduces latency. For example, in autonomous vehicles, edge computing is essential for processing sensor data and making split-second decisions to ensure safety.
Definition: Web 3.0, often referred to as the Semantic Web or Decentralized Web, is the next generation of the World Wide Web. It aims to create a more intelligent, connected, and decentralized internet where data is interoperable and can be understood by machines.
Use and Value: Web 3.0 has the potential to revolutionize supply chains by enabling a more transparent, efficient, and secure exchange of information and assets. Smart contracts, a key component of Web 3.0, can automate and enforce agreements within the supply chain. For example, a smart contract can automatically trigger payments to suppliers upon receipt of goods or services, reducing the need for intermediaries and streamlining transactions. Web 3.0 also promotes data sovereignty, giving individuals and organizations more control over their data. In supply chains, this means that companies can securely share data with partners and regulators while maintaining ownership and control. The next iteration, Web 4.0 will likely be driven by the next stage of augmented reality, and big data will play an important role. It is conceivable that your digital alter ego will interact autonomously with intelligent machines.
The transformation of supply chains with emerging technologies is an ongoing process that promises to make them more efficient, transparent, and responsive. The top 11 emerging technologies have the potential to revolutionize supply chain management. Those who embrace these technologies and adapt to the changing landscape of supply chain management are likely to gain a competitive advantage. However, successful adoption requires careful planning, investment, and integration of these technologies into existing supply chain processes. As these technologies continue to evolve, supply chains are poised for a remarkable future, where goods and information flow seamlessly and efficiently from manufacturer to consumer, enabled by the power of Web 3.0. This convergence of technologies and principles will redefine how supply chains operate in the digital age, unlocking new levels of efficiency, transparency, and trust.
OPSdesign Consulting has helped its clients with the identification, comparative analysis, engineering, design, and implementation of these and other emerging technologies. We have designed rocket parts warehouse and assembly operations at Cape Canaveral as well as production facilities for autonomous vehicles on the West Coast. Whether it is “rocket science” or a functionally pragmatic process design that minimizes unnecessary “fingerprints and footsteps”, in your warehouse, distribution, or e-commerce operation, we stand prepared to help you Add Value, Reduce Cost, Assure Quality, and Compress Time.