4 Supply Chain and Logistics Trends to Watch

Although consumers can get their hands on products more quickly than ever before, a lot has to happen between manufacturing and order fulfillment. The supply chain is constantly evolving to try to meet increasing customer demand while keeping costs low for businesses.

Here are five supply chain and logistics trends to watch.

Human-Machine Collaboration

Some people may already envision warehouses as robot-powered spaces straight out of a science fiction movie. Others may envision warehouses as remaining powered exclusively by people. The truth is we’re still somewhere in the middle; the need for collaboration between human workers and machines will continue to be central to performance.

A survey from Gartner found 17 percent of supply chain technology users are already piloting robots capable of acting independently. But this does not diminish the need for skilled human workers. The firm also predicts over 30 percent of operational warehouse workers will be supplemented — not replaced — by collaborative robots by 2023. After all, robots can move boxes and products around, freeing human workers to handle tasks “requiring more complex motor control.”

Growing Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT continues to expand, providing companies involved in the supply chain with more data and end-to-end visibility into performance than ever before. With more IoT-provided data to use as the basis for business decisions, companies are poised to glean more value from supply chain analytics.

Forrester predicts global IoT technology spending will increase from $186 billion in 2017 to $435 billion by 2023. The sector expected to lead the way is track-and-trace technology, which could experience growth of more than 24 percent within this time frame. IoT devices are enabling companies to get real-time or near-real-time updates on products and shipments they can use to make decisions, troubleshoot problems and refine processes for the future.

Advanced analytics systems can produce insights based on the information collected by IoT devices located throughout the supply chain. Decision-makers at every level can then act on these insights to minimize disruption and maximize efficiency.

End-to-End Digitization

Supply chains used to be siloed, meaning teams only had visibility into their little slice of operations. But this model is obsolete, at least for companies who want to remain competitive as we move into the future. The move toward end-to-end digitization is making the supply chain as we know it more transparent. In the words of Harvard Business Review, it is “bringing down walls and creating a completely integrated ecosystem.”

Circular Supply Chain

It’s easy to conceptualize a supply chain as a linear object. But the growing emphasis on sustainability in business practices and products means more supply chains are going circular. The ethos here is it’s possible to turn what used to be regarded as waste byproducts into products for resale.

An Accenture Strategy survey of more 500 global manufacturing companies with revenues surpassing $1 billion found 94 percent of its respondents pursuing circular business models. Nearly half (44 percent) named recycling as a priority, while 18 percent said they are “reusing or refurbishing materials they’ve recaptured at the end of life.”

Dell is one company embracing the circular supply chain by recapturing plastics from used products and incorporating them into the manufacturing of new products. The result? The company is able to shrink its carbon footprint while also reducing manufacturing costs.

The supply chain is no longer a straight line; companies will keep seeking ways to reuse, reduce and recycle, both for the good of the environment and for the benefit of their bottom line.

These five trends demonstrate a move toward a more data-driven, visible and automated future for supply chains.

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