The supply chain is no longer the rigid, human-centric protocol of the past. Instead of positioning real employees in every step of the process, more companies realize the value in supply chain automation.
Not only does it free up employees for other areas, but next-gen automation might also be necessary to gain control over big data and put these massive datasets to good use.
Radio Frequency Identification
Radio frequency identification – RFID – is huge in the current supply chain. It also has the potential to transform the future of manufacturing on behalf of countless brands. Companies around the world are adopting RFID to support various activities in the supply chain, including asset and inventory tracking.
Marks & Spencer, based out of the United Kingdom, began using RFID in 2001. One of the earliest adopters of the technology, they’re currently using RFID tags to ensure timely and accurate deliveries of trays containing fresh food, flowers and plants. Their initial foray into the world of RFID was so successful, they upgraded their system multiple times since then.
By monitoring the movement of goods – both during production phases and during final shipping – manufacturers can identify possible bottlenecks, eliminate redundant or unnecessary stops and streamline the entire process.
The Internet of Things
With some companies still warming up to ideas like online business, e-commerce and social media, the most tech-savvy companies are graduating to the next level of connectivity with the Internet of Things. Commonly abbreviated IoT, the platform gained a lot of momentum in 2017. It’s expected to continue its evolution and popularity throughout 2018 and beyond.
According to recent research by Gartner, more than half of all new major business processes and systems will utilize the IoT by 2020. The IoT isn’t the wave of the future – it’s already here.
Volvo, a car manufacturer headquartered in Sweden, uses cloud technology and the IoT to support and streamline supply chain logistics in several different ways.
Apart from relying on the technology to order assembly components, they also use the IoT when shipping finished vehicles around the world. Not only does it ensure accuracy and timely delivery, but it also opens the door for real-time communications in the event of an error or issue.
Many of the IoT’s benefits to the supply chain revolve around operational efficiencies like asset tracking and inventory management, as mentioned above. The IoT also establishes brand-new revenue opportunities by enhancing the overall customer experience and facilitating greater customer service.
Business Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence
In many ways, business intelligence – BI – goes hand-in-hand with artificial intelligence – AI. With so much emphasis placed on the research and development of AI, it’s easy to see the potential for a real supply chain transformation.
Advanced AI and BI are already used in predictive analytics, long-term forecasting, reporting and more. Traditionally, skilled employees handle many of these tasks.
With the dawn of BI and AI, next-gen computer systems are taking over some of the more menial and monotonous activities.
With the dawn of BI and AI, next-gen computer systems are taking over some of the more menial and monotonous activities. As a result, the most skilled workers transition to other, more important jobs.
Wal-Mart currently uses HANA, SAP’s proprietary cloud platform, to enable automated, data-driven decision-making and analytics. Other organizations use this machine-learning framework in similar ways. As a result, 10 of HANA’s biggest and most prolific users are forecasting five-year ROIs of 575%.
If BI and AI are interchangeable, then so are the IoT and cloud computing. Many IoT applications wouldn’t even be possible without the modern cloud. Companies like Rockwell Automation, a top provider of machine sensors and controllers, use the cloud to support their clients in numerous ways.
Some of their most significant IoT-cloud operations include offshore drilling efforts in Alaska, ongoing data collection from liquid natural gas – LNG – pumps and support of various manufacturing operations.
Not only does this strengthen operational efficiency across the board, but it also gives senior officials at Rockwell even further insight into industry trends, future forecasts and more.
According to Gary Pearsons, vice president and general manager with Rockwell Automation’s Services Business, their embrace of IoT and cloud computing “enable unprecedented efficiency” in all of their day-to-day activities.
With so much enthusiasm coming from a company of such size and scale, it’s hard to ignore these two technologies and their potential to revolutionize the supply chain as we know it.
Overcoming the Challenges of the Next-Gen Supply Chain
Powered by highly advanced and sophisticated technology, the next-gen supply chain will make it easier to compete in the 21st century.
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But there are some obstacles to overcome before we understand the full potential of innovations like RFID, the IoT, BI, AI and cloud computing.
While we made a lot of progress in 2017, and we’ll continue to tread new ground in 2018, there’s still a long path to follow before we see a widespread embrace of the new supply chain.