Dr. Bill Ferrell, Fluor International Supply Chain Professor of Industrial Engineering and Associate Dean of the Graduate School at Clemson University, anticipates that technology will impact supply chains in four key areas between now and 2030. Ferrell, who authored Roadmap 2.0’s technology section, says “demand pull” will be a powerful force in implementation of technologies as supply chain segments require new capabilities to cope with constant change. These include:
1. Distribution center (DC) design. Short e-commerce order fulfillment lead times and demands for faster delivery by consumers—who increasingly live in urban areas that are getting more and more congested—means more distribution operations will need to be located within cities instead of outlying areas. “With the explosion of e-commerce, the greater need to move single-piece unit loads, and same-day or even same-hour last mile delivery expectations, I can’t imagine how a company can operate in cities like Chicago, Bangkok or Delhi and not have tall, multi-story, vertical DCs and order fulfillment facilities,” he said. “There will still be single-level, horizontally-oriented distribution centers in rural areas, but we’re going to see more verticality—and technologies that support it, particularly automated storage systems—within urban cores.”
2. Single-piece unit loads. Just a decade ago, manufacturing of pallet-loads of products was the norm. With the popularity and ease of online shopping via mobile devices for personalized items, the single-piece handling trend that has dominated e-commerce distribution is beginning to move even further upstream within supply chains. “In the original Roadmap, 3D printing/additive manufacturing was seen as a possible solution to this challenge because of its potential to eliminate finished goods inventory and ability to produce highly personalized items,” Ferrell recalled. “But now companies are beginning to realize it makes the most sense for discrete replacement part manufacturing.”
3. Human/automation interaction. Interactive technologies such as wearable augmented reality devices (think smart glasses) that provide guidance in performing a task and robotics that support human work activities are emerging—and that’s opening up some exciting workplace possibilities, said Ferrell. “There are technologies that allow humans with physical limitations to compete for certain jobs they were not able to do before, and automation that eliminates unsafe jobs. Technologies that support people both cognitively and physically will deliver tremendous value within supply chains at multiple levels.”
4. Transportation and delivery. Outside the four walls, Ferrell anticipates that autonomous vehicles that still rely on a degree of human interaction will be implemented sooner than those that are 100% self-driven. “I think long-haul trucking will see the first autonomous, self-driving vehicles—but a human will continue to be along for the ride, and people will still be necessary at the point of interface for load transfer between trailer and building,” he said. “Longer term, however, McKinsey and Company predicted in a September 2016 report that within 10 years 80% of last-mile deliveries are likely to be made by autonomous ground vehicles and drones.”
Want to understand more about developing technologies and their potential impact on your supply chain between now and 2030? Download Roadmap 2.0, free of charge, here.