Artificial Intelligence in the Supply Chain: What is it and How is it Used?

Artificial Intelligence in the Supply Chain: What is it and How is it Used?

Artificial intelligence—a term used and associated with high-tech, menacing robots. Many individuals still have this concept in mind. While artificial intelligence is still far from that idea, it does sound futuristic like.

Driverless forklifts and autonomous vehicles seem like they belong in the future—maybe 20 or 30 years from now. In reality, artificial intelligence is here and now in our palms and our supply chains.  

Artificial intelligence is quickly becoming mainstream. Smartphone users talk to Siri on a daily basis to assist them with finding information. Gamers use virtual reality to elevate their gaming experiences. Unskilled drivers use smart cars to parallel park for them. We officially use artificial intelligence all the time, and it isn't scary, is it? While many are familiar with artificial intelligence for personal use, it can also be extended to practical business purposes too. 

What is Artificial Intelligence Exactly? 

Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science. Its main goal is to develop computer technology that can act like a human on an intellectual level. These thinking machines are then able to mimic, learn, and eventually replace human intelligence.  

Like everything, artificial intelligence isn't created equally. There are varying degrees and capabilities of this technology. Artificial intelligence can be split into three categories: strong AI, weak AI, and in between. Strong AI aims to replicate human reasoning. Researchers aren't quite there just yet. Weak AI is classified as a system that can behave like a human. However, it doesn't tell us anything about the behaviour of humans. The last category, the in between, uses human reasoning as a guide and produces systems inspired by our intelligence. This category is currently seeing the most activity.  

Furthermore, AI can also be split into two more classifications: narrow and general. Narrow AI systems are created with a specific purpose in mind. Once developed, they are only able to complete a certain task. On the other hand, general AI systems are designed with the ability to reason in general.  

Related:Disruptive Technology in Supply Chains and What the Future Holds 

The Use of Artificial Intelligence in Supply Chain Distribution and Transportation 

Businesses are always looking for new technology that can make their supply chains bigger, better, and more efficient. It's no surprise then that artificial intelligence has eagerly been put to use here. This technology is proving to benefit supply chains immensely.  

When it comes to the transportation of products, artificial intelligence is being used to develop autonomous vehicles. These driverless vehicles are a smart business decision. First, they cut the cost of labour hours. If a truck doesn't need to be physically operated, you don't need to pay an employee. Delivering products is also faster. No stretching or restrooms breaks have to be involved. Businesses would then be able to move goods faster, generating more income.  

Daimler Trucks recently demonstrated the abilities of their ‘Future Truck 2025' in July of 2014. With its onboard highway pilot system that allows it to reach the speed of 80 km/h, the truck successfully accomplished the job in realistic traffic situations. Adding to the list of this truck's benefits is the fact that it also reduces emissions of all types according to a company spokesperson.  

The distribution of goods isn't immune to the technology either. In fact, huge strides have been made to implement artificial technology in warehouses in the form of driverless forklifts. These vision guided vehicles take the product to shipping docks, put away, replenish inventory, etc. Used by companies such as Walgreens and Jaguar, these forklifts of the future are equipped with ten cameras for surroundings awareness, a coding system to program a driving route and keep them from running into each other, and sensors that can automatically shut the forklift down when an individual is within a certain distance. According to Joe Hurley, senior vice president of supply chain at Giant Eagle, they saw an increase in productivity between 10-30% after they started using their driverless forklifts. 

Artificial intelligence can be successfully integrated into supply chains to produce results in transportation and distribution. No longer thought of as scary, this technology is becoming mainstream in both business and personal use. When the full capabilities of artificial intelligence are realized, supply chains will reap the benefits. 


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