Top 5 Trends To Watch Out For In Supply Chain and Logistics
Technology and trends in the supply chain is evolving at a pace not seen before. Innovative companies are coming up with new technologies to increase efficiencies and decrease costs at a rate incomparable with the rate of innovation in the supply chain over the last decade.
For supply chain and logistics professionals, it’s important to stay up to date with future trends and how they will impact the supply chain in the broadest sense, their company, and their own job. We’ve listed the five biggest future trends in the supply chain that they need to be aware of below.
Drones have been around for a while and, as with many disruptive technologies, find their origins in the military. More recently drones have made their way into the private sector and the supply chain in particular as they don’t have the same restraints as trucks and trains, such as traffic lights and congestion due to accidents.
Drones are increasingly used to do stocktakes in factories, by identifying shipping containers at a port and even locating cattle on farms in remote areas. Furthermore, there is a push to use drones in the healthcare supply chain. Remote hospitals often lack sufficient supplies of blood and when a delivery of blood is currently required in life-threatening cases, they rely heavily on helicopters or ambulance transport teams who are disproportionally expensive compared to the use of drones.
There are still a lot of regulatory and technical hurdles to overcome before we’ll see mass-adoption of drones in the supply chain, but drones are definitely one of the future technologies to keep an eye out for. Especially in rural areas, with not a lot of high-rise buildings and other infrastructure around, drones can make a big impact on the supply chain.
2. Autonomous trucks
Many automotive companies have invested and continue to invest heavily in autonomous vehicles, with the most famous proponent being Tesla. While Tesla is mostly focused on passenger vehicles, companies such as Uber, Google and Amazon are also exploring self-driving trucks.
With the continuous rise of e-commerce, there are many more products to be delivered to people’s homes. This is leading to a driver shortage, which is something that autonomous vehicles can overcome. Other benefits of self-driving trucks are that they don’t need to ‘revive and survive’ every couple of hours the way a human being does and that they will lower transport costs, especially once the technology has matured further.
One of the things that are currently standing in the way of rapid mass-adoption is the media attention for accidents involving self-driving cars and the associated public debate, even though it has been proven that autonomous vehicles are less prone to being in an accident than a human-operated vehicle.
There’s also the ethical debate about the algorithms upon which the autonomous vehicles rely. If they have a choice between hitting an old lady or a young child in an otherwise unavoidable accident, which person should be chosen as the victim? Other constraints are the regulatory requirements and the willingness of governments to allow autonomous vehicles on the road.
While public opinion still needs to be won, it’s clear that driverless trucks are the way of the future. Trials have already taken place in various countries and the results have been very positive. It may take a little while before governments allow self-driving trucks on the road together with human-operated cars, but once they do the driverless cars and trucks will be in majority in no time.
3. Complete traceability of the supply chain in real-time
Manufacturers often use multiple third-party logistics providers to transport their goods from the factory floor to their customers but have limited visibility of their supply chain. Interactions by the various logistics companies are recorded independently by each company on paperwork or digital systems, which makes it very hard and time-consuming for the manufacturer to consolidate this data and make sense of it. Oftentimes, manufacturers only receive the information after the products have already been delivered to the end customer, which means that any issues can’t be proactively resolved.
While some individual 3rd party logistics providers are opening up their part of the journey in real-time by reporting on temperature and GPS of their trucks in real-time, this still leaves ample room for products to be outside a monitored environment. Goods can be left out on a loading dock for days, handed over to a different logistics company who still uses paperwork to report on their handling of products, or can be substituted or stolen when in a warehouse.
Australian company UCOT has solved this visibility issue by enabling manufacturers to have real-time traceability of the entire supply chain, from when their products leave the factory floor all the way into the hands of the end customer. They do so through their digitized supply chain ecosystem that is based on the latest IoT and blockchain technologies.
It all starts with an IoT sensor — which can be embedded in a product’s packaging — that has its own long-life battery, communicates with the internet, and records information from the box/pallet and stores it on a blockchain which cannot alter the information once it is recorded.
The IoT sensors report in real time on:
- Environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and exposure to sunlight and rain
- Whether a product has been opened or tampered with
4. 3D Printing
Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized the way books were produced by inventing the printing press. Before his invention, books were very expensive as they needed to be handwritten and illustrated, which made books only accessible to the wealthy.
We’ve recently seen a similar revolution in manufacturing through 3D printing. 3D printing allows manufacturers to produce products on demand and on site as opposed to having to order a minimum quantity of goods that may not need to be used for months or years.
The 3D printing of products has a lot of positive implications in the supply chain:
- It reduces warehouse costs as companies don’t have to store the same amount of products anymore.
- It saves on having to transport goods from a central warehouse, which reduces a company’s carbon footprint.
- Replacement parts can be produced quickly and at the right size.
- 3D printing caters for customers increasingly wanting personalized products.
There are many uses of 3D printing already. Hospitals are 3D printing accurate sized replacement hips instead of using standard sizes that do not fit most people perfectly. This speeds up recovery times and enhances a patient’s standard of living.
The construction industry is slowly embracing the technology as well with entire houses in the Netherlands now being 3D printed. Not only can the houses be easily customised, they are also a lot cheaper to produce than through the traditional methods of building a house.
With the price of 3D printers rapidly going down, we’re sure to see many more examples of how the technology will revolutionize entire industries and their supply chain.
5. Warehouse Robotics
Another future trend in the supply chain is warehouse robotics. There is a lot media attention about warehouses that are operated by robots, with Amazon being a prime example of a company that uses technology to become more efficient in warehouse management.
Companies like Amazon use robotics in their warehouses to facilitate efficiency gains, which enable a customer to order a number of different products and have them delivered within a short time frame.
Another benefit of using warehouse robotics is that there can be more shelf space as there is no need to provide aisle space for humans. This means that companies can store more products in their warehouses and that customers have a better selection of products.
Robotics are great for handling boxes, cartons, and cans, but in many instances, the technology isn’t that advanced yet that it can totally replace humans in the warehouse. One example of something that robots can’t yet handle in many instances is a bag of lemons. Companies are investing a lot of money in the technology though and it’s only a matter of time before robotics take over most of the tasks of humans in warehouses.
That the use of robotics for warehouse management is becoming more widespread is supported by research. A recent report by Tractica Research estimates that the global sales of warehousing and logistics robots will reach $22.4 billion by the end of 2021.
As a supply chain and logistics professionals, it’s important to stay up to date with future trends of the industry. We’ve highlighted our top five future trends in the supply chain, but these can change over the coming years as some of them will become mainstream and newer technologies will become a future trend.
Experienced supply chain professionals will need to increasingly become technologically savvy — if they aren’t yet — as the future will be mostly technology-based. While there are still a lot of manual processes in the supply chain at the moment, over the next five to ten years most processes will become automated and people who aren’t up to date with the latest technology by then will be left behind.