Supply chain management is in the news a lot these days, and the headlines can be a bit confusing (to put it mildly). One thing is for certain – the pandemic has put a laser focus on how reliant the global economy is on incredibly complex systems for getting goods and materials from point A to B.
Or, more accurately, from point A to Z, with meticulously orchestrated stops at points B through Y along the way.
As you’d expect, there’s no shortage of think pieces about trends to look for in supply chain management this year (we particularly like this one from a leading SCM professional organization). Most experts agree that innovations in supply chain management need to focus on three key areas:
If a delivery system fails or a link in the supply chain becomes temporarily unavailable, you need to be able to re-route your sourcing or distribution to the next best option in real time. This is the most immediate concern elevated by the pandemic, as factory shutdowns and other disruptions shuffled the supply side of the equation.
Ecommerce and real-time transactions have made the demand side of “supply & demand” more volatile than ever before. You still need to be able to scale your supply side without massive warehousing or inventory costs, but you can’t simply expect to ramp up instantly to meet a spike in demand. You need to work in somewhat predictable time windows. Experts describe this as “elastic supply chains,” and it requires deep insight at all points of the process.
Consumers want to track their packages in real time. And many of them also are genuinely concerned about environmental and labor equity issues with the companies they patronize. In many ways, supply chain management is becoming part of your marketing strategy.
Notice a trend? All of these objectives rely on gathering, processing and analyzing massive volumes of data in near real-time. The smart supply chain not only can tell you where a shipment is, it can intelligently reroute it if trouble arises. And it can predict future disruptions, or opportunities, to optimize your multi-hop trip from points A to Z.
It’s all very big business. Some analysts expect the global SCM market to grow to $41.7 billion in the wake of the pandemic, almost doubling in the six-year period between 2020 and 2026.
The tech at the heart of smart supply chains
The key technologies that underpin the evolution of the smart supply chain are:
5G and IoT
First and foremost, you have to have the data. 5G network speeds allow for transmission of status data from virtually every point in manufacturing and shipping, extending the supply chain well upstream from your suppliers’ load docks.
Of course, that’s a lot of sensors, and getting all the moving pieces connected to the internet has been a hot-button issue for industry for several years now. In Flyover Country, companies like Louisville-based Spectrum Tracking have been providing GPS trackers to track vehicles and assets for years. That’s just the start of IoT, where every device and process constantly reports on how it’s doing.
AI and Machine Learning
Once you get all that data, you have to make sense of it. AI and machine learning are rapidly evolving to help expand not only the analysis of data, but also the kinds of data that can be put to use in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). One company whose platform uses AI for managing small parcel, LTL, truckload, intermodal, air and ocean shipments is SwanLeap, located in Madison, WI.
With AI, your logistics software can also anticipate disruptions, based on past trend data. In all, the AI in SCM market is predicted to be $16.7 billion by 2027.
As with any data-rich environment, securing data while both at rest and in motion is essential. A recent survey released by Indianapolis-based STANLEY Security suggests that AI and machine learning will actually be a key element in finding and mitigating threats to supply chain data.
Milwaukee-based PAXAFE is one company that uses real-time insights for shipping. The company’s platform provides a “digital footprint” to provide the real-time status of your goods transported as LTL, FTL, ocean cargo, air freight or parcel.
The path from raw materials all the way to delivering products to consumers is a complicated one. Fortunately, tech is making that path easier.
Flyover Future is tracking 46 innovative Supply Chain & Logistic companies on Innovation Radar, click here to view details about each one.