Historic, successive, developments in logistics have helped to shape what we know about the supply chain today.
Logistics has been constantly evolving since the 1870’s, with the arrival of the industrial revolution, the railway, the automobile (and truck transport), containerisation, and even the invention of the pallet.
Tomorrow’s evolution will see further innovations to build the supply chain of the future: a less costly, more efficient, more connected, and more environmentally friendly supply chain.
In this article, learn how new technologies will revolutionise all we know about the current supply chain.
1.1. The Internet of Things
The IOT (Internet of Things) has been disrupting the entire supply chain for years now. Thousands of small connected objects make it possible to optimise the management of the supply chain and to move towards a more precise supply chain of the future, by focusing on:
Optimisation of transport flows
Storage of goods
Better tracking and traceability
This is notably the case with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips.
Attached to a box of goods, a product or even a pallet, these on-board chips save valuable time for supply chain operators. They allow the collection, when scanned, of information such as the number of items in stock in a warehouse.
Once analysed, this data helps to limit the number of warehousing errors, reduce inventory costs and improve the overall productivity of the supply chain.
At LPR - La Palette Rouge, we are taking another step closer to the supply chain of the future.
Thanks to our partnership with Shippeo, our customers are able to follow the journey of their pallets in real time. In the event of heavy road traffic, bad weather or an accident, we are able to notify them of the new arrival time, providing better visibility of the deliveries.
If IOT technologies already make it possible to optimise certain aspects of the supply chain, it is also possible to take another step towards the supply chain of the future thanks to the blockchain.
1.2. Blockchain : an essential component of the supply chain of the future?
The Blockchain. This buzzword is mainly known thanks to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and it represents real opportunities for the future for the supply chain of tomorrow.
What is the blockchain?
According to the Collins dictionary, the blockchain is a “system for storing records of transactions made by means of digital currencies which can be accessed by interconnected computers.”
A boon for all players in the supply chain who can capitalise on the advantages of the blockchain to exploit this traceability.
And this is what Chinese company Vechain has realised!
A. The VET, a true certificate of authenticity
With the primary intention of ensuring the traceability of goods to fight against counterfeiting, Vechain has developed VET: a virtual currency capable of storing and linking all information relating to a single product.
Thanks to VET, the supply chain of the future will soon be able to trace the entire journey of a product, but also:
Check the authenticity of it
Ensure that the cold chain has been properly respected (when transporting a dose of vaccine, for example)
Record the history of the product (accident, manufacturing defect, etc.)
Prove the origin of the raw materials used within the product.
One day, thanks to the advances made possible by Vechain's VET, all this will be completely automated, from the extraction of the wood, to the delivery of the pallets.
But this is not the only blockchain innovation in the supply chain of the future!
B. Smart Contracts, a boon for the supply chain of the future
In the supply chain, it is not uncommon to find errors or attempted fraud in agreements and exchanges between suppliers and customers.
Thanks to smart contracts, these problems can be a thing of the past. Once registered in the blockchain, these new types of “smart contracts” have many advantages:
They become inviolable and guarantee the absence of post-contractual modifications, which gives greater visibility to the various stakeholders.
They radically reduce the volume of documents circulating in the supply chain and save valuable time.
They boost productivity by eliminating the need for a third party and allowing remote signing.
To conclude, there are many developments related to connected technologies and their importance in the supply chain of the future is well established.
In recent years, the deployment of 5G has accelerated the use of these innovations, but once these processes have been fully optimised, what role will humans play in the supply chain of the future?
2. The augmented human serving the supply chain of the future
2.1. The wearable revolution
If, as we saw in the previous section, large numbers of connected objects make it possible to optimise and automate processes within the supply chain, some of them will also serve to assist human operators. By suplementing their pre-existing cognitive, physical or even intellectual capacities, these objects, already present in warehouses, will quickly become the norm.
This is the case, for example, with augmented reality glasses. By displaying information such as location, quantity of products to be picked or the status of a stock to its user, they allow operator to save time in their daily activities.
There are plenty of other innovations helping to make the lives of logistics operators easier too. In recent years, many companies have started to explore solutions to try to reduce physical effort: for example, exoskeletons. These steel structures allow users to carry heavier loads associated with handling. This is a particularly useful tool in palletising, and will soon be present throughout the supply chain.
The supply chain of the future will also integrate virtual reality to train its logistics operators. By simulating their warehouse, their workstation or even certain work situations, this technology will make it easier to train better qualified and efficient operators.
Finally, drones have become commonplace in our warehouses over recent years. They make it possible to control inventories (of goods, or pallets, for example) quickly and remotely, a process which could require dozens of people working over a period for several days. The use of these small motorised devices, when coupled with RFID technology, afford greater precision and reduce inventory errors.
To conclude, if technological developments continue to improve the efficiency of those working within the supply chain, further developments may call into question their operational usefulness. This could see the evolution of certain professions within the supply chain of tomorrow...
3. The supply chain of the future: towards a 100% automated supply chain?
3.1. Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Thanks to the connectivity between big data and machine learning, artificial intelligence will soon be able to make process optimisation decisions and give better visibility of all aspects of the supply chain:
Increased precision of sales volumes and stock management
A clear reduction in transport costs and times
The accuracy of the logistics architecture
It is possible to imagine a supply chain of the future entirely guided by intelligent machines, capable, thanks to the volume of data, of predicting, acting and making informed decisions to achieve efficient optimisation of the supply chain.
If artificial intelligence is set to play a decision-making role in the supply chain of the future it will still need humans to act as a checking mechanism.
3.2. The robotisation of the supply chain of the future
Autonomous robots are already in place in many warehouses and have long worked alongside humans.
Today, these robots undertake repetitive tasks and those which can lead tomusculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among logistics operators.
Robots are still a long way from completely taking over from humans. However, they do offer significant advantages which will lead them to become evermore present in the supply chain:
They can operate non-stop 24/7.
They pose no risk to employee safety.
They make fewer mistakes than humans.
They allow employees to focus on tasks with higher added value.
While there has always been a fear of robots replacing humans in factories altogether, today's autonomous robots are still a considerable way this.
In 2020, the Chinese giant Xiaomi announced that it was working on a brand new phone production plant, capable of producing more than a million mobile phones a year... without human intervention.
Yes, you read that right. This would be the first 100% automated production facility in the world.
No date has been given for the opening of the production plant, but a teaser has been published by the brand on their social networks.
We’ll let you watch the video and make up your own mind!
Despite these technological innovations, the supply chain still has to address a fundamental issue…
4. Is sustainable development at the heart of the supply chain of the future?
It's no secret that the planet is in bad shape. Beyond questions of profitability and traceability, it is the responsibility of everyone within the supply chain to consider the environmental impact of their actions.
Today, the impact of the supply chain on greenhouse gas emissions is vast and solutions must be implemented.
More and more companies are aware of the role they have to play in order to achieve carbon neutrality for supply chain partners.
Despite increasingly drastic Green Supply Chain Management policies, the supply chain is still some way from achieving the objectives set by the Paris Agreement, which requires a reduction in CO2 emissions from by transport of 28% by 2028!
This is where the real challenge of the supply chain of the future lies, and this where LPR - La Palette Rouge will play its role in the coming revolution. Thanks to its inherently circular business model and its pallet pooling solutions, it works with those businesses within the supply chain who wish to change their habits for more environmentally friendly operating methods.
In conclusion, the supply chain has been constantly evolving and will continue to evolve in the years to come. In the age of globalisation, and both data and digital, companies around the world are investing heavily in the future of the supply chain to move towards a more efficient, ambitious and environmentally friendly supply chain.
If you would like to discuss your logistics issues with our business experts, you can contact them here. You can also access our other blog articles to learn more about supply chain and pallet pooling.