Supply Chain Technology 2019 - Year in Review Part 2

2019’s over, but there’s plenty of technology to look back on over the course of the year to see what affects it had on supply chains.

The move by companies towards digitization grew more pronounced in 2019. As such, many of the technologies that digital transformation supports grew as well. Part 1 of this review covered several of them, including AI, automation, and IoT.

Christian Titze from Gartner explains,

As companies seek to exploit the benefits of greater levels of digitalization, new and innovative technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning, can potentially and significantly disrupt existing supply chain operating models

Nonetheless, there’s plenty more to cover. Supply chains looked to a number of other technologies to elevate the running of their operations last year.

This article by Morai Logistics underscores many of the most significant developments in supply chain technology in 2019.

Blockchain

Blockchain didn’t have a breakout year in terms of adoption by supply chains by any means. Rather, it was a yer of tentative interest. Blockchain remains a technology in need of maturing. As such, the limitations that plague it like difficulty in supporting scalability remain a problem for it. In spite of that, its many benefits still have companies watching it closely.

A Gartner article expounds on why blockchain grew in prominence in 2019, despite its limitations,

In theory, organizations should know all parties in their supply chain network (within the broader business ecosystem) and trust them — but this is far from today’s reality. Blockchain technologies, as an example, could be an answer to address this problem across three areas — counterfeiting, visibility/traceability and efficiency play.

Robots and Cobots

Robotics only saw an incremental increase or similar rates of adoption in supply chains in 2019. As highlighted in this Supply Chain Dive article,

About 32% of supply chain professionals say they are actively using robotics and automation … This number has gone relatively unchanged since 2016 when 35% of respondents said they were actively using robotics and automation, but anecdotal evidence and market value forecasts show warehouse robotics growing.

With that said, even though robots saw little change, cobots gained some attention. A trend that continued from previous years, as seen in the sharp increase in cobot production numbers. This was probably due to the fact that cobots, by virtue of being robots that collaborate rather than replace human workers, aren’t as disruptive to workplaces. Moreover, not quite as much is expected of them as they aren’t necessarily doing tasks in isolation.

Immersive Technology

Certainly, virtual, augmented and mixed reality are immersive technologies that have been around for quite some time. However, it was in 2019 where companies began to explore their use in their business operations. That includes their supply chains, where they can have considerable benefit in a number of areas, including manufacturing and logistics. One reason for this is because they can help with predictive maintenance, displaying all the relevant data on AR glasses.

Digital Twin

Digital twins are online visualization of an actual system, such as a supply chain. Thus they have proven to be fantastic at creating end-to-end visibility of supply chains. Which in turn enables supply chain managers to have a clear understanding of how their chain is functioning and quickly respond to any issues it might be plaguing it.

All Things Supply Chain’s post further covers why using digital twins gained the traction it did over the past year,

The computer-aided duplicate of things has evolved in many ways: Today, digital twins are not only used for real-time product monitoring, but also for opening up new business areas. Scenario testing and analysis can be used to assess future potential success. In manufacturing, for example, a digital twin can answer all the crucial questions: How much do I produce or am I able to produce? How much capacity do I have? Are my plans still realistic?

Supply Chain Technology 2019 - Year in Review Part 1

With 2019 almost at an end, and technology having been the focus of so much of it, it’s critical to look back at some of the supply chain technology that defined it.

More than ever before the supply chain has become characterized by technology. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, blockchain technology, and much more are all part of the technological advancements driving supply chains forward. 2019 saw all these innovations continue their ascent. And, while not all of these technologies have seen wide scale adoption just yet, it seems to be a matter of when rather than if.

An article by All Things Supply Chain further delves into this supply chain trend,

In the globalization era, the supply chain is more diverse than ever before. Every day new technical innovations offer the opportunity to reduce this complexity. Gartner vice president David Cearley describes this development as an “intelligent digital mesh” that “will be characterized by smart devices delivering increasingly insightful digital services everywhere”. These circumstances are transforming the supply chain from a technology-enabled procedure to a technology-centric one.

This article by Morai Logistics highlights some of the most prominent developments in supply chain technology in 2019.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Perhaps the most significant technology in the supply chain space, artificial intelligence had a big year in 2019. Being responsible for machine learning, several smart devices, and the driver of automation, AI is the linchpin to numerous critical innovations. What AI in 2019 showed is that it is entirely capable of taking on numerous human tasks and operations. Analyzing data, making models, predictions, and forecasting with it, route optimization, personalizing customer service are just a few things AI showed that it’s capable doing for companies over the previous year.

Analytics

If AI is the linchpin to a variety of technology, data is the life force for it. In turn, it’s through analytics that that life force can best be utilized and understood. Although analytics have been around for a while, they are growing more advanced. 2019 saw these advanced analytics grow a great deal more prominent.

A post by Gartner on the technology trends of 2019 explains,

Advanced analytics are increasingly being deployed in real time or near-real time in areas such as dynamic pricing, product quality testing and dynamic replenishment. The availability of supply chain data — such as Internet of Things (IoT) data, dynamic sales data and weather patterns — provides the ability to extrapolate the current environment to better understand future scenarios and make profitable recommendations.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The previously mentioned article by All Things Supply Chain addresses the impact IoT is set to have on supply chains,

 In the future, the number of networked devices will increase enormously, thus boosting efficiency and productivity in supply chain. Gartner estimates the number of networked devices will be 25 billion in 2021. In the future supply chain, for example, these could be smart sensors on manufacturing floors in order to efficiently manage planned and predictive maintenance work. These sensors could also be used to closely monitor and track stock and the entire inventory. Not only does this save a lot of manpower, but it also allows you to optimally plan your future production.

However, while 2019 didn’t quite reach those heights for IoT, it certainly further cemented its place in the supply chain. Adoption rates of IoT technology increased a great deal. As the year brought with it a greater focus on providing an end-to-end experience, companies began utilized IoT to help deliver that experience. And, as the above article displays, IoT adoption will only increase going forward.

Automation

Lastly, automation carried on expanding its presence in supply chain operations. Supply chains involve many tedious and repetitive tasks. Automation has allowed those tasks to be handled by machines like robots and drones. However, what 2019 showed is that automation doesn’t only mean a loss of human labour. It also means better human labour and supplemented human labour. Automation allowed workers to focus on more meaningful work in supply chains.. Not only that, but it also gave workers assistance with some of the more labour intensive tasks.