"Ultimately, industries are increasingly realising that their supply chains need to be more resilient, responsive and autonomous"
Bradley Wingrave, CEO and founder of Smarter Technologies, a smart solutions provider for businesses’ transport, logistics and mangement-related challenges, explains how digital technology is transforming supply chain performance.
Supply chains are currently being disrupted by shortages of raw materials, supplier and carrier capacity shortages and disruptions due to port capacities. For example, according to Air Cargo News, 95% of the cargo that passes through Heathrow is usually carried in the cargo hold of passenger planes. The vast reduction in commercial passenger flights in response to the pandemic puts an intense strain on supply.
In response to unanticipated and urgent demand coupled with supply shortages, some of the exposed problems affecting supply chains include:
- Lack of agility and flexibility
- Lack of technology solutions to manage new sourcing and fulfilment strategies
- Lack of visibility
Ultimately, industries are increasingly realising that their supply chains need to be more resilient, responsive and autonomous. In other words, any party at any time should be able to answer the question:
“Where are my goods, and when will they arrive?”
Access to real-time, transparent information is becoming critical — not only to meet customer needs and expectations, but also to ensure health and safety of products and people. Having end-to-end visibility lets customers know where their product has been, where it is on the shipping route and exactly when it will be delivered. It also helps companies to identify disruptions across the supply chain and use this data to optimise for future efficiencies.
A positive outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak is the realisation of major potential digital manufacturing and supply chain opportunities.
- Modernising remote work capabilities
- Remote monitoring and diagnostics of operations and assets
- Heavy investment in process automation
- Remote product service as a key part of product innovation
- A more resilient supply chain
Here’s how digital technologies are helping companies to realise these objectives
Digital innovations enable greater use of automation, quicker responses to changing needs and more transparency across the supply chain.
Data from information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) needs to converge to allow for greater insights and data-driven decision making.
Collecting accurate, real-time data on the location, temperature, condition and safety of assets allows for the sharing of data across the business. This enables:
- Identification of bottlenecks
- Demand planning
- Better inventory management
- Predictive maintenance
- Higher productivity from employees and partners
- Theft prevention
- Route efficiency
- Faster delivery
Companies that have implemented cloud technology gain the advantages of remote access, automation and collaboration along the supply chain.
Supply chain resilience is dependent on having end-to-end visibility, including shipments, orders and items. With real-time tracking and tracing, businesses can reduce lead times and optimise supply chain management. Immediate exception alerts allow for rapid intervention where necessary.
Knowing the status of assets is one thing; the ability to optimise and change this status through two-way communication is even more powerful. For example, a temperature sensor on a product may alert you that the temperature is above or below a certain threshold level. This vital information informs the action to adjust the temperature settings of the cooling mechanism, an action which can be automated if you have the right systems in place.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
In supply chain management, AI has the potential to:
- Automate activities (in both hardware and software)
- Drive decisions
- Support collaboration and ecosystem support
Supporting technology infrastructure
There are several elements involved in supporting supply chain digitalisation. These include:
- Internet of Things (IoT) Sensors: These add a real-time data dimension to fixed and mobile assets.
- Mobility: Processes, communication and security should be managed and monitored remotely.
- Security: Zero Trust infrastructure mitigates the threat of internal and external cybersecurity attacks.
- Big Data Analytics: Collecting, consolidating and analysing supply/demand data to gain actionable insights.
- Connectivity: Connecting devices, sensors and tags to transmit key data or insights over a network in real-time.
A rapid return on investment
The business value of supply chain digital transformation is huge. With customer needs and expectations evolving faster than ever, and a global pandemic placing new pressure on supply and demand, adopting a digital-first mindset helps companies become more agile and remain relevant and profitable in a changing world. Asset tracking, monitoring and recovery solutions, which can help to enhance supply chains by streamlining internal development, production and transport operations, become more valuable while creating a customised, cost-effective delivery solution for customers.