Global demographics are changing. The middle class is expanding at a rapid rate in countries like China, developing economies are becoming increasingly urbanized with more cities being built, and connectivity is being brought to rural areas that were previously unreachable.
Supply chains are now also far more customer-centric. The changes wrought by shifts in the nature of the global marketplace have created a more competitive environment, and customers are demanding more services and personalization, which means that a one-size-fits all approach is no longer enough. Geographies must be differentiated and people grouped by their requirements so that separate service offerings can be provided.
A number of technological advances are moving from the fringes to the mainstream, as firms look to take control of their supply chain and maintain their competitive edge. We’ve looked at five of those below:
The concept of 3D printing is not new, having been around since the 1980s. However, it is only recently that the technology has been developed and made available to the mass market. Entire products, and product parts, can be printed using almost any material. In China, they’re even printing houses, while BioTech firms in the US have experimented with printing human organs.
Advances in 3D printing mean that manufacturers can print goods on demand. This will shorten the supply chain, and save on the costs of warehouse storage, by making it unnecessary for large quantities of finished products to stay stacked up unnecessarily.
By the end of the decade, the number of installed units connected to the IoT will have risen from 0.9 billion in 2010, up to 26 billion. The IoT has a number of potential benefits to the supply chain, such as sensors on machines monitoring them for signs of damage. Sensors can also alert other machines to when maintenance is required, then have this maintenance undertaken automatically. This reduces the likelihood of damage, saves on downtime, and cuts the need to have someone come out and fix them manually.
The IoT will also create a large number of data points, providing real time information from which they can draw insights that optimize processes and reduce delivery times.
Less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers have been giving away their trailer space for nearly 80 years, using an ancient formula that has cost them hundreds of millions. One innovation for the logistics industry that is now increasingly being seen by major carriers like UPS, is dimensionializing machines. Dimensionalizing machines precisely calculate the amount of space a shipment will occupy in a trailer by measuring a shipment's dimensions—arrived at by multiplying length, width, and height. They then provide proof of their calculations, so carriers can price their capacity based on the actual amount of space that a shipment takes up.
Perhaps the most important technology for firms looking to shore up their supply chain is Cloud computing.
Cloud computing is becoming increasingly pervasive in the supply chain. It enables the kind of collaboration that is necessary in a successful operation. In a survey conducted by SCM World, Supply Chain And The Future Of Applications, 46% of the senior supply chain professionals who responded said that more supply chain collaboration leads to problems being solved twice as quickly, making the chain more agile, and reducing the time it takes to resolve complex problems.
Drones and driverless vehicles are set to revolutionize the logistics industry. Amazon has already said it is going to use drones in its bid to reduce its delivery times to seconds. While drones are only able to carry smaller items, they are light, inexpensive, aren’t slowed down by the whims of road traffic, and they can access more remote areas.
Driverless vehicles have also shown great potential as tools for logistics and supply chain management, removing the need for drivers. Driverless vehicles reduce the substantial overhead that comes from paying wages, and they also reduce accidents.
Both of these innovations are still very much in their early stages, but when they come in, they could have huge potential for the transportation of goods.