Smart industry, smart manufacturing, smart logistics. All terms thrown around with increasing abandon. With the consultancy firms and logistics mega powers like DHL continually sharing their vision on what will eventually become possible, it can be hard to get a grip on reality. So, with that in mind, here’s my take on the exciting tech that’s not only mature enough to be operational, but to suggest a major impact beyond what’s already been achieved.
Connectivity: From internet of things to internet of everything
Data-integration between every component in the supply chain will become a reality, drastically increasing how effectively available cargo space is used. With it currently at about 40% globally, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Not only for knowing which freight is where, but also to bundle shipments or link up traffic information across docks and airports so planning and forecasting of time of arrival is exact as possible.
Internet tech will also find its way into an increasing range of smart goods and containers, taking tracking and tracing to the next level. Logistic companies will get a handle on the precise location and status of any item, what else is in any given container, and which stage of the journey via land or sea is involved.
The range of interaction with existing infrastructure will also increase dramatically – think along the lines of electricity grids, health centers and telecommunications networks. In addition to enabling a wide range of new ‘connected living’ experiences at home, in the car and via new media, logistics and transportation will be major beneficiaries. We’ll soon be dealing with goods that understand their own lifecycle and can autonomously manage their way along the chain. Think supermarket coolers that can manage their own replenishment based on buyer behavior and supplier lead times.
RFID: From location awareness to self-steering supply chains
RFID tags are already a major component of the internet of things concept, with tools for managing the data becoming more capable and affordable. In addition to supporting the concept of continual goods monitoring, software be used to optimize the planning based on current location data.
This will likely lead to a kind of artificial intelligence whereby the planning systems can self-adjust, optimizing route-planning, moving goods based on latest supply and demand information – be it within one storage location, or between distribution centers. Geofencing, for example, is a creative existing application for the technology, using the tags to feed information to trucks moving on and off-site. By letting drivers know exactly where they need to go to load and unload, efficiency for both the trader and the logistics providers is driven up.
Mobile: From data on the go, to real-time augmented reality
Computing power in mobile devices will continue its upward curve, not only in smart phones and tablets but in an increasing array of wearables like glasses, watches, and even intelligent fabrics. This will make more of the data being generated by the internet of everything more available to more people on the move. By combining geographical data, item status and transport planning, then streaming it continuously to decision makers on the move, insight into supply chain performance and the ability to effectively deal with challenges will dramatically increase.
And it’s not just the data collection and sharing possibilities that are relevant here. Augmented reality is starting to find its feet in applications offering a realistic return on investment potential. Heads-up displays allowing real time business information to be accessed while enabling hands free working promise to redefine how we pick and pack in the warehouse.
Big data: From query driven analytics to real-time operational adjustments
Advanced data capturing and advisory capabilities are on the rise, such as predictive analytics and real-time event processing, as companies start extracting insights from unstructured information. Big data has begun to make inroads into logistics services, turning large-scale data volumes into a unique asset capable of boosting efficiency in specific areas of the business. In the logistics industry, from predictive network and capacity planning, through risk evaluation, resilience planning, and real-time route optimization, up to crowd-sourced pickup and delivery operations.
Big data, mobile and interconnectivity have long been headline grabbers, but it’s in the coming period that I believe we’ll really see their true potential. With more and more mainstream commercial applications for these concepts starting to find their feet, we’re really starting to see just how exciting their full impact could be. Further refining of the technology, together with lower investment barriers, will see adoption of these concepts become realistic across the SMB. And with that scale of investment and application, we can only expect to see the speed of innovation around these pillars increase. Exciting times.