A flood of new technologies in the last decade portend a supply chain revolution, and a new study from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Global Supply Chain Institute identifies five that companies should examine to ensure their long-term survival.
The white paper assesses the current and potential functionality as well as the benefits and barriers to adopting drones, driverless vehicles, 3-D printing, wearable technology and robotics. Of these, experts considered robotics to be the greatest potential disruptor over the next five years.
“Robotics have been around for more than 50 years, but they have become dramatically more dynamic in the last five,” says Paul Dittmann, executive director of the Global Supply Chain Institute and author of the paper. “They are no longer stationary, blind, expensive and unintelligent, but can work alongside people and learn as jobs change.”
Drones might not be ready for their anticipated role in last mile delivery of consumer goods, but are close to helping with less technically challenging tasks such as tracking warehouse inventories or managing trailer yard security. Wearable technologies like smart glasses will likewise find application in the warehouse, helping workers sort, pack and inventory items, as well as identify safety hazards or the shortest path to their next pick.
Driverless vehicles have already been tested and approved in seven states but will substantially affect transportation costs once they can be caravanned or reach a port-to-port automation point. Considered the least viable in the short term, 3-D printing was identified as having the potential to eliminate the supply chain completely if costs can be reduced and usable materials expanded.
The report notes that these physical technologies are inextricably linked to digital innovations like big data and the Internet of Things. Real breakthroughs will require a seamless link among the physical devices and their digital and software interfaces. Kenco Logistics and JDA Software, the two sponsors of the paper, prepare for the coming changes via their innovation labs.
“We take some of our most talented people and pair them with the device makers and customers to explore what these technologies can do,” says Kristi Montgomery, vice president of innovation, research and development at Kenco Logistics. JDA Software expands on the implications of physical technologies in its labs, integrating them with digital innovations to create standardized solutions.
“We are at a turning point in the industry where disruptive innovation is required to meet the exponentially growing customer expectations,” says Danny Halim, vice president of distribution and 3PL strategies at JDA Software. “Our JDA Labs team explores the potential applications of leading-edge technologies, data science and reimagined user experience to quickly develop game-changing solutions that deliver higher performing supply chains.”
Dittmann tapped a wide range of expert sources, including multiple large and well known companies, service providers and technology start ups to author the white paper, “New Supply Chain Technology Best Practices.” It is the first in UT’s Technology in the Supply Chain series.
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