Supply chain technology is evolving faster than ever before. Innovative organisations are developing new technologies to increase efficiency and reduce costs. What’s more, this is happening at a far higher rate than supply chain innovation over the last decade.
For supply chain and logistics professionals, it’s important to stay abreast of future trends and to monitor how these trends will affect the supply chain, their organisation in a more general sense and their own work. Below are the five most important trends to be aware of for the future of supply chains.
Drones have been around for a while, and as with many disruptive technologies, they have their roots in the military. Drones have recently become established on a wider scale, particularly in the private sector and supply chains, since they do not have the same limitations as trucks and trains (traffic lights, traffic jams due to accidents, etc.). They are increasingly being used for inventory control in factories or identifying shipping containers in a harbour. In fact, even cattle on remote farms are now located using drones. Their use is also being promoted in the healthcare supply chain, particularly for remote hospitals, which often lack resources such as an adequate blood supply. At present, when a blood donation is required in life-threatening cases, hospitals are heavily reliant on the use of helicopters or emergency transport teams. Compared to drones, these are disproportionately expensive.
There are still many regulatory and technical hurdles to be overcome before drones are accepted en masse in the supply chain. However, the use of drones is certainly one of the future technologies to watch out for. Particularly in rural areas, where there are not many skyscrapers or other items of infrastructure, drones can massively improve the supply chain.
2. Autonomous trucks
Many automotive companies have invested heavily in autonomous vehicles in recent years, with Tesla being the best-known example. However, while Tesla focuses on passenger cars, companies such as Uber, Google and Amazon are also exploring self-driving trucks.
The ever-advancing march of e-commerce has seen a demand for many products to be delivered directly to our doorsteps, causing a driver shortage that autonomous vehicles could help to solve.
Other advantages of self-driving trucks are that they do not have to break for safety every few hours the way a human does. They also reduce transportation costs, especially if the technology is advanced.
3. Complete traceability of supply chain in real time
Manufacturers are now using multiple external logistics providers to transport their goods. As part of this process, interactions between different logistics companies are recorded separately by each company on paper or digital systems, and the manufacturer’s rights are often limited to the right to delivery. This situation could be significantly improved and simplified through the use of autonomous trucks.
Some logistics providers are already surveilling their cars (if not other vehicles) in real time.
4. 3D printing has many positive impacts on the supply chain:
- It further reduces business costs.
- It reduces the consumption of goods from a central warehouse, which in turn reduces the company’s carbon footprint.
- Spare parts can be produced quickly and in the right size.
- 3D printing is increasingly being used for personalised products.
3D printing already has numerous uses, including the production of 3D-printed hips by hospitals. These fit the patient more accurately than the simple standard product, resulting in a better quality of life.
The construction industry, too, is slowly getting influenced by 3D printing: buildings can not only be adapted more easily, but are also much cheaper.
With a rapid fall in the price of 3D printers over recent years, we’re certain to witness more and more examples of this versatile technology.
5. Warehouse robotics
Warehouse robotics is another up-and-coming supply chain trend. Warehouses that rely on the use of robots are currently receiving a good deal of media attention.
Companies like Amazon use robotics in their warehouses to significantly reduce the timeframe from order to delivery.
Another advantage of using robots is that it frees up more space for shelves, since robots do not require the same additional aisle space that humans do. This means that companies can store more products in their warehouses, offering their customers a wider choice.
While the use of robotics in warehouses is ideal for handling cartons and boxes, the technology is often not yet advanced enough to replace humans completely. There are some items that robots still cannot handle, such as a bag of lemons. But with companies investing heavily in robotic technology, it’s only a matter of time before robots can carry out most currently manual tasks.
Photo by pxhere / CC 0