Simon Peter Nadeem, a PhD student at the University of Derby’s Centre for Supply Chain Improvement, discusses the latest advances in technology which are changing the face of logistics and supply chain management and opening up new opportunities.
Conceiving an innovative idea and turning it into reality is made easier with the assistance of technological advancement. Mostly the new ideas are disruptive in their nature as they intend to bring change, and they often face resistance but are appraised and widely adopted after their proven success. Technological advancement has bridged the gap for the realisation of conceived ideas into reality in matter of no time. The fact remains true that technology alone is unable to come up with such solutions unless the human imagination, thinking and creativity direct it.
Technology utilisation in logistics and supply chain management
Like many other business sectors benefiting from technological advancement, Logistics and Supply Chain Management (LSCM) has also taken strong move to be ahead of the game. A brief overview of more contemporary technological advancements utilised in LSCM are presented in figure one and discussed further.
The role of mobile phones
Mobile phones, initially developed to make/receive calls and to send text messages, are now nothing less than a computer in the palm of every user, which can not only be controlled by touch and voice, but can be used to process data and guide the users. Smartphones are extremely useful to capture data of real time inventory, delivery and location of goods; along with many other features, such as video calling, GPS navigation, accounting, etc. Thus LSCM can benefit by its usage to make their operations both efficient and effective.
Radio Frequency Identification
Long gone are the days when humans need to count the inventory physically as well direct it to its destination. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is playing a revolutionary role in the era of LSCM. A small sticker with an RFID tag pasted behind the label of the products, massively optimises the operations by saving time and eliminating, or reducing, the possibility of errors. Inventory’s movement, identification, data-recording and transfer are some of the key advantages possible, without ever opening the package and that also in the matter of seconds.
Moving goods from point A to B is a key activity in the LSCM sector. Never before has LSCM experienced the possibility to deliver goods to people’s homes through a small, unmanned, electric, and easy to operate drone. Although the initial development and usage of drones was only observed in military activities, through the growth in knowledge and advancement of this technology, its utility features have expanded and have now become an important asset for production facility, as well as regular delivery of products. Some examples of companies using drones to deliver packages are Domino’s Pizza, Amazon and DHL.
The very latest, revolutionary development is 3D printing and it is going to disrupt LSCM operations very soon. 3D printing brings the biggest change to the sector by providing the possibility to print produce on demand, instead of storing goods. Through the rise and adaptation of 3D printing, the whole supply chain will be disrupted, along with a change in demand pattern. This will require new ways of sourcing products and the required materials. Although its mass adaptation is not seen at present, it’s just around the corner.
Augmented reality (AR) is another recent revolutionary development, especially for the LSCM sector, as it opens new doors and possibilities to optimise day to day operations and to achieve accuracy at its best. The scope of AR is not just limited to LSCM. It is widely adopted across industries such as medicine, production, education and training. Technological tools such as smart glasses, smart lenses, head-mounted displays, handheld devices, including smart phones, stationery systems, and spatial augmented reality systems, are utilised to assist the use of augmented reality.
LSCM can massively benefit through the utilisation of AR in day-to-day operations and achieve benefits, such as space optimisation in the warehouse and delivery trucks, efficiently navigating products without any extra training for employees, minimising pick-up errors and damage to goods, providing training on the job through step by step guidance for employees, and optimising the freight loading process.
Some final thoughts
The spectrum to optimise operations management is broadening through the assistance of technological advancement. Its adaptation in everyday business will provide dynamic opportunities for successful operations in any business, including LSCM. Tools such as mobile phones, RFID, drones, 3D printing, and augmented reality are enormously useful to maximise the potential and minimise the possibility of error within the LSCM operations. These advancements are expanding the LSCM boundaries and require new rules of the game.