Disruptive Technology in Supply Chains and What the Future Holds

Disruptive Technology in Supply Chains and What the Future Holds

As the saying goes, bigger is better, and technology in supply chains is making a splash in the supply chain industry. Supply chains can be riddled with complexity, involving multiple processes to create a product and distribute it to consumers.

Supply chains aren't always efficient. Let's be honest; there's always room for improvement, and it's looking like disruptive technology will help us get there.  

Disruptive technology shakes up a supply chain and has the potential to completely change how products are manufactured, distributed, and tracked. Each year, Inbound Logistics surveys 3PL companies about their perspectives on the industry. This year, the study revealed some interesting opinions on disruptive technology. The most disruptive were found to be the Internet of Things (IoT) at 42%. Next came autonomous vehicles at 41%. Drones placed third at 25%, and 3D printing followed closely behind at 24%. According to supply chain business leaders, these are the top four technologies to keep a watchful eye on. Let's take a better look at them.  

4 Disruptive Technologies Hitting Supply Chains 

1. IoT: IoT is essentially a network of objects that have been technologically equipped with sensors to collect, exchange, and transmit data. This gathering of data gives employees access to real-time information. The IoT connects what has previously been unconnected. What does IoT mean for supply chains? Every process, person, and product can be monitored from the beginning of the supply chain to the end.   

IoT can be particularly useful in warehouses and for inventory purposes. Equipped with mobile devices, employees who work firsthand with inventory can collect, view, and manage incoming data, which can then be shared with higher level executives. Improved inventory visibility has the potential for more efficient reporting. There may no longer be the need to physically conduct inventory counts.  

2. Driverless Vehicles: This technology has so much potential that technology giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple are developing autonomous vehicles. Driverless vehicles present key advantages to interested companies. Without having a driver, a truck can operate 24 hours a day without stopping. Thus, consumers can receive their orders faster. Autonomous vehicles can also be used inside warehouses, yards, or terminals to move assets. As an example, Suncor Energy is already using automated vehicles in the oilsands, and other organizations are using automated vehicles to manage mining operations. The use of this disruptive technology is expected to grow to more than 10 million by the year 2020.  

Related: Logistics Sector to be Revolutionized by Automated Vehicles 

3. Drones: Drones have previously been an untapped resource because of the many restrictions placed on the technology. Since these restrictions have been lifted, drone popularity and use in commercial sectors have exploded. Drones can change the method of delivering small packages. There is the idea, which has been tested, for a large, fuel-powered aircraft to carry several smaller, short-range drones. These drones would be released within range of delivery addresses. This idea would prevent the need of having one drone travel a large distance to deliver only one parcel.

4. 3D Printing: The last disruptive technology to round out our top four is 3D printing. The personalization of 3D printing can drastically simplify what was once an overly complicated supply chain. To create a physical model of a product, employees have to piece together smaller parts to make it whole. This process is time-consuming, but 3D printing expedites this. 3D printing requires only one production phase in a single location, instead of multiple production phases in multiple locations.  

What Does Disruptive Technology Hold for the Future of Supply Chains? 

Disruptive technology will rattle supply chains—there's no doubt about that. They will upend multiple processes and ways of completing work. These changes will be for the better, though. IoT will require fewer labour hours to keep track of inventory, improving warehouse efficiency. Driverless trucks will do the same. No drivers equal no salary spent. Inventory would also be expected quicker, allowing companies to move more product and earn more revenue. Drones present a similar efficiency to delivery methods. Why release an army of delivery trucks when drones can do the job faster? Lastly, 3D printing can dramatically decrease the production time of products. So what are the common trends here? Efficiency, reduced labour costs, reduced production times, and faster delivery are repeated. These improved key performance indicators are what the supply chain industry has to look forward to.   


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