If Leonardo da Vinci could have used artificial intelligence and algorithms, what other wonders might he have accomplished? We regard new technologies as being able to significantly enhance human capabilities and skills. This is equally true in both industry and logistics.
We are currently witnessing the emergence of artificial intelligence, connected objects and new technologies which automate tasks previously performed by humans.
Logistics is not immune to this high-tech wave of digital technology. This is why there is a key need to consider the main applications of automation in the supply chain.
Use in warehouses, first and foremost
Many connected objects, robots, sensors and RFID chips are already present in warehouses. These new technologies can contribute added value when it comes to preparing orders, inventories and other time-consuming tasks previously performed by humans.
The degree of warehouse automation depends particularly on how big they are and what industry they work in. As is always the case, automation projects must increase productivity, flexibility to change and reduce the burden of repetitive tasks with low added value.
Another trend in warehouses is seeing robots and humans increasing working side by side: so-called collaborative robots!
Among the examples of these new technologies include connected glasses, which Geodis have already tested, to help the order picker measure and navigate through available space by suggesting optimized pathways.
Another example of humans and machines working together is the traveling remote-surveillance robot equipped with a rotating camera. Thanks to it, humans can take control of the machine at any moment and guide its movements as soon as an incident occurs.
The warehouse of the future will increasingly rely on data intelligence and machine learning. Many components of a warehouse, i.e. conveyors, racks, drones and trolleys, do not yet fully exploit all available data.
Streamlining logistics flows to achieve a new nirvana
Automation does not stop at the warehouse. It also relates to the supply chain as a whole and especially the transit and warehousing phases.
Less paper, fewer repetitive tasks and more focus on priorities and emergencies
In terms of logistics, we are witnessing the rise of collaborative platforms in different means of transport; road, sea and air. The main goals are to simplify trade, access the latest available information, reduce repetitive tasks and automate data collection.
Collaborative platforms can take a big step in improving the supply chain, developing collaborative methods and furthering automation. For example, they enable real-time alerts to be generated whenever an alternative route is detected during transport logistics which may concern any parties in the chain. This makes it possible to manage the transport file more efficiently by focusing on key points. But such platforms also facilitate automating tasks currently handled by different companies, sometimes in a sequential or even excessive manner.
Transition from a supply-driven system to a service-driven system
All parties access information in real time, freeing up valuable seconds. Logistics professionals can thus overcome a simple supply-based system to adopt one which considers their customers better.
Frédéric Buchère, Alteo's Head of Customer Services, explains the BuyCo cloud platform:
"BuyCo's collaborative digital platform enables us to make faster, more reliable decisions. Since we share the latest information, we are all on the same wavelength. As a result, we respond more quickly to our customers, which helps to boost their satisfaction."
Alteo automates tasks, such as bookings, using templates which can endlessly replicate classic transport files with all variables (port of departure and port of arrival), documents and partners involved.
Data which fits strategic thinking better
Automation also provides repeated access to data which has been collected to optimize logistical flows and facilitate decision making.
Industry leaders in logistics are moving from a simple transactional position to a more strategic position as this data helps them inform their decision-making processes.
What role is there for automation in container-shipping operations?
Shipping is very amenable to automation because it involves numerous tasks and documents which are time consuming and must be repeated frequently.
In the maritime industry, automation already involves the creation of new shipments using templates, the use of workflows to connect partners with shipping files, the automated production of documents and the creation of tasks.
While automation simplifies tasks and accelerates workflows, the learning machine takes advantage of the data to make predictions and recommendations. This can sometimes allow tasks to be set in motion with no human involvement needed.
Nowadays, a typical maritime shipping operation involves recurrent steps which can be almost fully automated and where a learning machine involved takes charge of the process, making decisions previously made by a human being.
Automation will increasingly be able to take control of operations, from those which precede sending a shipment to delivering the cargo to a customer.
The Bill of Lading (BOL), where paper remains key
The next stage of change will concern the bill of lading, already becoming available in secure electronic format via techno blockchain, and which will also become automated. There will be no more need for couriers and airmail to transmit either this crucial document, or a transport contract, cargo receipt and deed of property.
What is the next step for learning machines?
We are led to the conclusion that use of learning machines and AI are prerequisites for achieving greater awareness of end-to-end strategies in the supply chain, as previously examined.
At this moment in time, logistical teams aim to have greater insight into their end-to-end flow patterns in real time, with the goal of anticipating future actions and providing clients with better a service.
The ability to predict the arrival of cargo may also be extremely important when it comes to certain goods in certain kinds of industries, for example automotive production or perishable food products.
Statistics on Automation
While it is commonly believed that automation only relates to activities and tasks which require little skill, the results of a study by McKinsey show that automation is multi-faceted. Indeed, it can equally impact upon the most important areas of society - even GDP.
This same study shows that only 5% of roles can be entirely automated. However, we must also consider another key finding - that 45% of activities in the workplace could end up being automated.
Such findings show that automation will lead to a reconfiguration of all of the jobs and tasks which make up the supply chain, as well as any services offered by companies.
On the other hand, this study shines line on another area: automation will allow business professionals to free up time and take advantage of skills specific to human beings, such as creativity. Automation will therefore bring about a boom in creative thought and make work more fulfilling.
How should we understand new technologies?
It is of primary importance that technology is first understood and the areas of greatest priority where it can be applied are decided upon. This is so that potential benefits in terms of productivity, quality control and client satisfaction can be identified.Subsequently, any services where technology may be applied effectively should be targeted. At the same time, new technologies produce large quantities of data, which is why there is a need to develop new jobs in order to analyze, interpret and verify it. The increasing demand for new professional roles such as data miners and data scientists show this the most.
An effective supply chain is of greater importance than ever, and most essential for any company that wishes to remain competitive.
The new heads of supply chains act on an ever-widening scale, with numerous internal and external stakeholders. This is why work needs to be reconfigured by adopting new solutions which bring about greater automation and facilitate broader collaboration between parties. New technologies and new ways of doing business are transforming markets behind supply chains at great speed, most notably in the shipping. In just a few years, automation tools which enable greater visibility and collaboration have become essential. All parties involved, exporters, carriers, freight forwarders and so on, have followed these developments closely and adapted, relying on innovations by start-ups, which have often been the intermediaries.
In the current context, new technologies are leading to unprecedented changes in business roles and activities. All parties involved in supply chains are therefore redefining the way they act and add value in an age of digitalization. Given that these changes are taking place so rapidly, those who make use of them first will be best placed to offer services which are quick, competitive and high quality within their respective supply chains.
The important thing is to take the first steps: start, test, learn and move forward!