With today’s digital, interconnected world, supply chains are experiencing unprecedented disruptions. That’s because they aren’t just dedicated solely to moving physical products and materials from point A to point B anymore. Now they must also serve as a connected, coordinated information ecosystem that delivers maximum flexibility, visibility and transparency—regardless of the manpower available.
The 1,100-plus manufacturing and supply chain leaders who responded to the fifth consecutive survey that culminated in the 2018 MHI Annual Industry Report, “Overcoming Barriers to NextGen Supply Chain Innovation,” confirmed the trends covered in the previous reports. Further, they identified their top two operational challenges as:
- Increasing customer demands on supply chains (73%), and
- Hiring qualified workers (64%).
To meet those challenges, companies have continued to evaluate, explore and embrace 11 NextGen technologies, all covered in the report. They include:
- Robotics and Automation
- Predictive Analytics
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Driverless Vehicles and Drones
- Wearable and Mobile Technology
- Inventory and Network Optimization
- Sensors and Automatic Identification
- Cloud Computing and Storage
- 3D Printing
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Although each technology offers opportunities to address the twin challenges of meeting customer demands and compensating for ongoing workforce challenges, not every innovation will benefit every operation, says MHI’s CEO George Prest.
“Not every technology needs to be adopted, but those that are proven to be the right fit for a company’s operations, they’re gaining all kinds of benefits—including transparency, agility and efficiency—that no one could possibly have envisioned just a few years ago,” he explains.
For those reasons, the report includes in-depth case studies of how early adopters have deployed and benefitted from five of the technologies: Robotics and Automation, Predictive Analytics, IoT, AI, and Driverless Vehicles and Drones.
“It’s very difficult for people and businesses to envision the types of jobs and opportunities for process improvements that can come from new technologies such as the ones profiled in the report,” continues Prest. “So with the case studies, we’re trying to give readers examples of how early adopters are leveraging one or more of these innovations as tools in their tool box.”
In the third-quarter 2018 issue of MHI Solutions magazine, several experts weigh in on the report’s findings. Among them, Dr. Randy Bradley, Assistant Professor of Information Systems and Supply Chain Management at the University of Tennessee agrees that now is the time for companies to strongly consider implementing NextGen technologies. However, having analyzed the past three reports, he cautions that operations should first scrutinize their current processes before applying a technology to them.
“You can bring new technology in, but if your processes remain the same there will be limited benefit,” Bradley notes. “Often, the technologies expose problems with underlying infrastructure. If there’s an issue with the quality of your master data—and you begin to automate processes that require that data—you’ll either perform more poorly faster, or you’ll recognize sooner that you’re doing worse.”
Before making the leap into an investment in any of the NextGen technologies explored in the report, companies should ask themselves which of the solutions gives them a set of capabilities they would not otherwise develop on their own, he continues: “By way of having these capabilities, they can either disrupt markets and/or industries or enter new markets that were previously unavailable, as well as create a competitive advantage, and sustain it for a longer period of time.”
To download a free copy of the 2018 MHI Annual Industry Report, click here.