We are being assailed by innovative technologies that the experts tell us will transform the supply chain.
The question is: which of these technologies are really going to succeed and which are dead ends?
Is it going to be 3D printing that changes the world or is wearable technology (for example, smart glasses) that will have the biggest impact?
The prospect for these disruptor technologies has now been assessed in a white paper from The Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee. The paper is sponsored by JDA and Kenco Logistics.
It has picked out five potential game changers and looks at their potential uses as well as the benefits and barriers to using them.
3-D printing has been around for a while now, so it would seem to be a safe choice. But, according to the study this is the least viable technology in the short term as there are many barriers to widespread adoption. “3-D printing suffers from slow speeds, high cost, possible low quality precision output (requiring substantial post processing), very limited materials, and lack of widespread technical expertise.”
Nevertheless, it has the potential to eliminate the supply chain completely if costs can be reduced and usable materials expanded.
Better bets would be driverless vehicles and wearable technologies. The study points out that driverless vehicles have already been tested and approved in seven US states and will substantially affect transport costs once they can be caravanned or reach a port-to-port automation point.
And the study found that wearable technologies like smart glasses will find applications in the warehouse, helping workers sort, pack and inventory items as well as identifying safety hazards or the shortest path to their next pick.
Drones, the study argues, are not ready for their anticipated role in last-mile delivery of consumer goods. Nevertheless, it says they are close to helping with less technically challenging tasks such as tracking warehouse inventories or managing trailer yard security.
So what is the winner – the technology that is set to disrupt the market over the next five years? It has to be robotics.
“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.”