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Game-Changing Supply Chain Technologies to Look out For

Editor's Note: If you are interested in becoming an expert on Supply Chain Management (SCM), take a look at Flevy's Supply Chain Management (SCM) Frameworks offering here. This is a curated collection of best practice frameworks based on the thought leadership of leading consulting firms, academics, and recognized subject matter experts. By learning and applying these concepts, you can you stay ahead of the curve. Full details here.

Featured Best Practice on Supply Chain Analysis

67-slide PowerPoint presentation
This deck was developed to support supply chain visioning and strategic diagnostics. It provides checklists of key questions to ask in formulating a supply chain strategy, core frameworks, tools and techniques that facilitate the strategic thinking process. See also "Supply Chain Performance [read more]

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First coined by Keith Oliver in 1982, supply chain management refers to managing all the goods and services required to transform raw materials into final goods.

Supply chain management has always remained a core part of many businesses. Hence, manufacturers have been on their toes to implement new technologies to enhance efficiency. While some of these technologies have helped streamline supply chain management, others have created more problems than solving them.

Consider the example of Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) technology. MRP was supposed to promise automation across production scheduling. But the inflexibility led to issues like machine breakdown and delivery failures.

But that’s how companies run, right? You conduct research, implement new solutions, learn from the shortcomings, overcome them, and create efficient processes. Following this improvement cycle, businesses have come across some game-changing technologies that have led to an evolution in supply chain management. Here are some of those:

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics for Warehouse Management

Managing warehouses has always been a critical challenge in the supply chain. Storing materials, packaging products, shelving, tracking, etc., requires a lot of resources, and managing everything overwhelms the managers. Artificial Intelligence (AI)-led automation and robotics can overcome these challenges.

AI algorithms can automate all the mandated tasks associated with warehouse services. Consider the example of packaging. Based on the data fed into the machines through AI, they can pack the exact amount of the final product into a single packet without the need for any human intervention.

Moreover, a combination of AI subset technologies like Machine Learning (ML), Deep Learning (DL), and Cognitive Computing help build the perfect robots for warehouse services. A robot powered by such technologies can help with lifting, shifting, and shelving in a warehouse.

DL-powered robots can also track the course of their travel in real-time. These robots detect obstacles and avoid them to ensure the packed products reach their desired locations by capturing and scanning images.

AI can also power autonomous vehicles (AV) to streamline last-mile delivery. One such example already in use is Nuro’s self-driving delivery vehicles. With a 360° view and pedestrian-protecting front end, Nuro’s AV is an excellent example of how businesses can use AI for supply chain efficiency.

It might be feasible for a lot of companies to have such robust technology-laden warehouses. Fortunately, they can outsource their requirements to warehouse services that provide state-of-the-art facilities using the latest technologies.

Internet of Things for Predictive Maintenance

Downtimes can cost companies a fortune. One of the primary reasons behind them is machine failure. What if you can predict such failures and avoid them? The Internet of Things (IoT) and AI can help you achieve that.

IoT sensors and devices can gather real-time data about machines. This data can include temperature, last maintenance schedule, machine’s age, etc. After collecting the data, IoT devices can send it to AI algorithms.

AI can analyze all the data to generate insights like the optimal time to shut down a machine for cooling, how frequent is maintenance required, or is it time to replace the equipment?

IoT also helps monitor raw materials and final products. Some materials should be kept in a specific temperature range for extended shelf life. If the temperature goes above or below the spectrum, it can impair the end products. IoT sensors are capable of fetching and sending real-time temperature data. It can also trigger alerts when required to take necessary actions to prevent wastage.

Similarly, you can also monitor and keep track of deliveries with the help of IoT devices. With the real-time information on goods’ location, suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors can prepare for their arrival for a scheduled material flow across the supply chain.

Blockchain for Supply Chain Transparency

Problems with a single component can directly impact the entire supply chain. Hence, transparency becomes vital. There must be a clear communications channel, regulations, accountability, and traceability among all the supply chain participants.

The core purpose of blockchain technology is security and traceability. All the data recorded on the blockchain network are immutable, as altering the data requires permission from over 50% of the network’s core participants. Implementing this technology for the supply chain means that everyone will know about all the changes made to data.

Consider the example of the delivery chain. Suppose you are a retailer and have received a consignment lately, impacting customer relationships. You question the distributor for late delivery, and he says that it’s the manufacturer’s fault. When you ask the manufacturer, he says it’s because he received the raw materials late. The loop will continue, and you will never have an answer.

With blockchain, you can ask everyone to log data like the delivery time of consignment on the ledger network. Hence, you can go through the data on the blockchain to detect where the assignment got late.

Conclusion

Industry 4.0 is here, and the use of technologies to survive in today’s competitive market is inevitable. You can see the use of these game-changing technologies already in practice and the results that follow. You, too, can benefit from them if you make a move now.

Excel workbook
The purpose of the 4 Stage Model is to provide a high-level qualitative assessment of an organizations practices and processes. The model aligns with the Supply Chain Council's SCOR model and is broken down into Plan, Source, Make and Deliver. Within each of these major processes are a series of [read more]

Want to Achieve Excellence in Supply Chain Management (SCM)?

Gain the knowledge and develop the expertise to become an expert in Supply Chain Management (SCM). Our frameworks are based on the thought leadership of leading consulting firms, academics, and recognized subject matter experts. Click here for full details.

Supply Chain Management (SCM) is the design, planning, execution, control, and monitoring of Supply Chain activities. It also captures the management of the flow of goods and services.

In February of 2020, COVID-19 disrupted—and in many cases halted—global Supply Chains, revealing just how fragile they have become. By April, many countries experienced declines of over 40% in domestic and international trade.

COVID-19 has likewise changed how Supply Chain Executives approach and think about SCM. In the pre-COVID-19 era of globalization, the objective was to be Lean and Cost-effective. In the post-COVID-19 world, companies must now focus on making their Supply Chains Resilient, Agile, and Smart. Additional trends include Digitization, Sustainability, and Manufacturing Reshoring.

Learn about our Supply Chain Management (SCM) Best Practice Frameworks here.

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About Shane Avron

Shane Avron is a freelance writer, specializing in business, general management, enterprise software, and digital technologies. In addition to Flevy, Shane's articles have appeared in Huffington Post, Forbes Magazine, among other business journals.




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