Automation and the Supply Chain: What’s on the Horizon

It’s no secret that automation is the future of global supply chain management. And while some fear it will push out human workers, others view it as a necessary and beneficial step in the advancement of the logistics field.

For one thing, automation is capable of taking over the most mundane, repetitive, and, in some case, dangerous tasks along the supply chain. This frees up employees to focus on more strategic and big-picture assignments, helping organizations to evolve and grow.

But don’t just take our word for it. In a recent post, we covered some of the automation advancements currently transforming global supply chains. Today, let’s explore the future of supply chain automation and the technologies waiting just beyond the horizon.

Autonomous vehicles are drawing nearer

Driverless vehicles have been making headlines recently, and not always for the right reasons. Pilot programs are well underway, but there are still many kinks that need to be worked out before driverless trucks can transform transportation networks.

However, those days may not be far away. By 2030, it’s predicted by 78% of transport needs will be fulfilled by autonomous vehicles. Numerous U.S. states have already introduced legislation around these vehicles in preparation for widespread rollout.

Shipping costs have been rising steadily in recent years in the wake of persistent driver shortages. Driverless vehicles may bring these costs down significantly while improving safety on the roads. That said, it’s currently unclear how successful autonomous vehicles will be at navigating adverse weather and other variable road conditions.

Warehouse automation is almost here

The benefits of warehouse management system (WMS) automation are obvious—lower costs, decreased vulnerability to labor shortages, and increased supply chain visibility for intelligent shipping logistics, to name a few. But while some major companies have managed to implement WMS automation on a large scale, this is still slightly out of reach for most small and mid-size companies.

As this software integrates with ever more affordable hardware, warehouse automation will increase. These capabilities may trickle down into more supply chain management systems throughout 2019, but they will primarily come in the form of software and reporting before any major hardware overhauls are widely available.

Supply chain production automation is coming

This year will see an accelerated shift away from continuous production lines. Instead, many companies will gravitate toward more flexible production “cells” that are more responsive to real-time demand.

As with touchless supply chain automation, accurate input data is essential for production automation. Luckily, cheaper, faster, smarter sensors are already impacting global supply chain management systems.

A more intelligent production line can result in a cascade of improvements at every stage of the supply chain. Combined with better warehouse automation, automated production methods based on real-time supply chain data will help companies maximize supply flexibility and responsiveness. These advancements will also help to reduce spend on large inventory storage and bring less-than-truckload (LTL) freight costs down.

The marriage of WMS and production automation is expected to create a massively disruptive advantage for companies that can transition to this new supply chain model. For now, companies can keep their eyes peeled and their minds open to help them stay abreast of new developments.

Are companies ready for more automation?

While automation has already made a huge impact on supply chain management, many of the biggest advancements in this field are still a distant dream. Technologies need to mature and companies need to evolve their processes and mindset before the full competitive advantages of automation can be realized.

To find out how your company can prepare for future automation developments and take full advantage of the technologies that are available today, talk to the logistics experts at CTSI-Global.

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