Smart technologies are changing the way we live, work and produce the goods and services people need for modern life. Consumers, companies and production systems are connected in ways we could only imagine just a decade ago, while new technologies have completely reshaped the supply chain.
How can businesses take advantage of these developments to improve their supply chain? Here are just a few examples:
1. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
UAVs have the potential to have an enormous impact on the supply chain. They can currently assist logistics professionals in managing warehouses and trailer yards, where stacks of shipping containers must be inventoried, tracked and moved according to operational needs. UAVs can replace workers on the ground to tour the yards from above, confirming the exact location of any trailer and transmitting other important data as they fly.
UAVs already perform additional jobs in the supply chain, from serving as a second set of eyes in warehouses to surveying remote areas to spot problems along oil and gas pipelines. And when they’re used for crop dusting fields, UAVs become part of the food and beverage supply chain.
On the fulfillment side of the supply chain, online retailer giant Amazon has proposed using UAVs to deliver packages in cities, towns and rural areas around the world. This green technology has the potential to replace many of the trucks and railroad cars now transporting goods from Point A to Point B, saving companies and consumers money, time and energy, while expanding logistics firms’ reach to the far corners of the world.
Wearable technology, such as Fitbit, has changed the way people move through their daily lives, giving them the ability to gather and analyze personal data to improve their health. Similarly, wearable technology in the supply chain allows companies to gather and analyze operational data to improve productivity. For example, goggles such as Google Glass can enable warehouse workers to quickly count boxes by tracking eye movement. This technology also saves time and effort by processing data directly through the wearable device, instead of requiring a separate task to download information on a computer. Wearables will also enable distribution center dispatchers to track truck drivers’ activities, including the amount of sleep they get. Preventing tired drivers from getting behind the wheel not only increases supply chain efficiency – it can also save lives.
3. 3D Printing
3D printing will someday enable consumers to make their own toys, household items and other products, leaving bigger manufacturing firms to produce more intricate, technical and specialized products. In the meantime, companies can take advantage of 3D printing technology to save money and improve delivery times by locating their manufacturing facilities closer to strategic markets. 3D printers will also allow manufacturers to produce goods like automobile parts on demand, therefore eliminating the costs and challenges of keeping products in inventory. 3D printers will cut delivery times, too – giving consumers the quick turnarounds they increasingly demand.
4. Big Data
With the proliferation of available data, supply chain managers have the potential to completely restructure their supply chains, using real-time information and consumer demand. For example, loyalty or club cards used by consumers provide valuable data that allow companies to predict buying patterns. Analyzing data through complex modeling techniques gives supply chain professionals the ability to optimize inventories, improve distribution methods and ensure in-demand products are on the shelves when consumers are ready to purchase them. Cloud computing is also contributing to improved efficiencies, by providing data on orders, delivery statuses and supply chain issues in real time.
5. Better Risk Management
Over the past decades, supply chain management has become more complex, and managing risk along the supply chain has become a higher priority. Today’s consumers expect more from businesses, such as transparency and accountability. They expect manufacturers to keep unhealthy ingredients out of their food and dangerous products off store shelves, and they expect clear communication at every step of an online sale. To stay a step ahead of problems that affect the supply chain, and therefore their customers, savvy companies utilize sophisticated technology to obtain real-time updates, share information across channels and make informed decisions. Technology allows today’s global companies to plan for, deal with or avoid altogether those risks that would have proved devastating in the past.
The Future of Supply Chain
By introducing big data, 3D printing, UAVs, improved risk management and wearables into everyday operations, companies in all industries are changing how their supply chains look, function and add value to the bottom line.