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2021 Supply Chain Technology Trends

by Mary Rooney | Jan 12, 2021
Article from Forbes, with content from ARC Advisory Group

2021 supply chain technology trends include many solutions that are getting a buzz, as well as mature technologies. Here is a summary of the hyped, promising, and widely adopted technologies in supply chain management.

Hyped Technologies

Hyped technologies are getting a lot of publicity but have little proven value. These seem like technologies in search of a solution.

  • 5G & Internet of Things: 5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology, producing faster download and upload speeds. As it is being built out across the U.S., it may have an impact as more devices throughout the supply chain and manufacturing process become part of the ‘Internet of Things.’ This will produce an incredibly rich data stream that will send signals in real-time to trigger a wide variety of events across the supply chain.

  • Blockchain: Companies continue to pitch their blockchain solutions in the supply chain realm. Blockchain is said to be a strong solution for traceability or to provide payment to linked supply chain partners after their part of a chain of linked activities has been completed. However, there is no indication of wide-spread use quite yet. 

Promising Technologies

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) Platforms: These platforms allow companies to ingest massive amounts of data, and see if applying machine learning or AI algorithms will provide valuable predictions. In the supply chain, supply chain software companies are working to embed existing applications with AI and machine learning, as this is a more cost-effective way to access the capabilities of AI. Other companies believe custom AI/ML applications can be built to provide value in black spaces not currently covered by existing supply chain applications. 

  • Autonomous Trucking: Startups have been pouring money into tests, but we are still some years away from seeing fleets of autonomous trucks on the road. And in some cases, investment dollars are beginning to dry up for this technology. The best guess on when we might see autonomous trucks delivering loads without drivers in the truck is 2024. But even in 2024, these trucks will not be running across all lanes nationwide. Rather there will be a focus on delivering across targeted lanes for select customers. 

High Value, But Not Widely Adopted

  • Next Generation Control Towers: A robust supply chain control tower is built on a cross-functional end-to-end digital twin of the supply chain. It includes visibility to how events across the extended supply chain will impact the ability to fulfill orders to customers. The digital twin models the constraints in transportation, warehousing, production and then can produce optimized plans to handle the inevitable exceptions that arise. In the past a supply chain control towers tended to be focused more on handling transportation exceptions or be more focused on orchestrating around exceptions rather than using true optimization to maximize service at the lowest cost. In order to get the data, clean it, and normalize it, most of these modern control towers are being built using data lakes.

  • Robotic Automated Storage and Retrieval: In the last few years a form of goods-to-person automation has come to market. These “robotic shuttle systems” are a hybrid of traditional shuttle systems and free roaming robots. The robot agility removes throughput and sequencing constraints, providing increased productivity potential. These solutions are coming to market just as demand is accelerating for same-day fulfillment of online orders. This spike in demand is especially prevalent in e-grocery fulfillment. 

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Robotic process automation is software that is used to automate high volume, repeatable tasks. Over time enterprise systems develop better automation and users can do their job more effectively. But companies using legacy systems may have opportunities to use an external RPA solution to automate the work inside the legacy system. RPA’s do this by performing the same computer keystrokes and opening the same modules humans do. 

Read the full article at Forbes.


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