Three Trends in Supply Chain Innovation

18 Wheeler truck on a highway.

Getting what the customer needs, right where they are, at precisely the time that they want it is becoming ever more important. Efficient supply chains reduce waste, save money, and ensure the best possible goods are made and brought to market. There’s a lot of innovation waiting to turn supply chains into ever more powerful tools.

Automation And Robotics

It’s always worth being skeptical of heavily-hyped technology. However, when you peel off the excessive claims around automation, you’ll find some major changes coming. Automation, on the data side of supply chain management, and robotics, on the physical side, are really designed to remove repetitive, time-consuming tasks from human workloads. Why send a person with a clipboard to check off every container from a list, for example, when a drone can ping an RFID tag and use LIDAR to find damage and defects in the containers themselves and software can collate and verify the containers?

This will free up the humans to do more complex and demanding work, allowing more quality inspections, faster resolution of errors, and tighter turnarounds. As more data is collected and new patterns emerge, the robots will become more effective, while humans can fine-tune the process.

Local Sourcing And 3D Printing

Even without the current trade tensions, local sourcing and 3D printing would be rising in the supply chain industry simply because they shorten shipping distances. Industrial 3D printing and machining are advancing rapidly, reducing both the manpower needed to make parts and the costs associated with assembling them. Being able to make just the parts you need and to assemble them quickly is already reducing turnaround times and quality problems.

In the future, this will only become more important, especially for niche industries. With labor costs lower and manufacturing the part as simple as uploading a CAD file, the cost of relatively low volume items will go down.

Man in a red work uniform with a red hard hat.

Software Optimization

Much like Archimedes with his lever, in the modern age, the person with the right software can move the entire world. A good example is collaborative transportation management. Especially with transportation labor roles sitting unfilled for weeks or even months, expect to start seeing companies use software to collaborate on getting their items where they need to go. Twenty years ago, telling a competitor there was space on a truck would be unthinkable. Now, in an era where you can share a ride with total strangers using an app on your phone, it’s just unused efficiency it’d be silly to leave fallow.

Of course, this is just what’s expected. When RFID was patented in 1983, nobody expected that the humble, cheap little tags would turn up in supply chains around the world in just a few short years or just how profound their effect on the supply chain would be. Supply chain management needs innovation and new ideas more than any other industry, as the race to get it there better, faster, and for less becomes ever more intense and as the margins for reductions become smaller. To learn more about how you can stay on top of innovation, join our newsletter!

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