Gartner also coined the the particularly dour term “Trough of Disillusionment.” If you’ve ever spent a large amount of money on new, shiny technology, only to find it not measuring up, you’ve been in that trough.
There’s plenty of buzz around new technology that will supposedly forever change the world of supply chain leaders. But it’s essential to see through the smoke and mirrors and make sure that technology will bring real change to your processes.
3-D Printing: Transforming Parts and Packaging
Manufacturing is finding powerful possibility in 3-D printing technologies. Though they pose a risk to the spare parts industry, the potential is immense. The ability to customize is causing companies to look into investing in 3-D printing to disrupt current models. Here are a few examples:
CPG companies are using 3-D printing to manufacture entire packaging lines on-demand.
Instead of carrying large spare-parts stockpiles, cruise and merchant ships are making spare parts on demand with onboard 3-D printers.
Creating replacement engine blocks for classic cars when manufacturing data is unavailable and components are obsolete.
Getting production lines up and running again quickly by printing replacement parts for manufacturing facilities.
The modern supply chain may soon be disrupted by the many potential uses of 3-D printing. “Out of stock” could soon leave the vocabulary of supply chain leaders as computer-assisted design (CAD) modeling combines with 3-D printing to create custom-designed spare parts on demand, leading to reduced lead times and costs.
The Mysterious But Transformative Blockchain
No new technology is as hyped or as mysterious as that of blockchain. Though many think “cryptocurrency” when they hear “blockchain,” its applications in supply chain are not connected to the bitcoin craze. Within blockchain’s use as a digital ledger is the potential for a new supply chain model entirely. Compliance, traceability, sustainability, and transparency are the main applications of blockchain for supply chain.
Supply chain leaders can use blockchain’s ability to protect data to build visibility and efficiency. Its potential spreads into contract bids and execution, tracing products, and executing supplier payments. If harnessed correctly, blockchain could be the new “operating system” for supply chain.
It can also be used to meet fair labor and sustainability standards, by tracking items from point of origin all the way to the customer — such as following a coffee shipment from a Colombian farm to the shelf at Starbucks.
Though commercial adoption of blockchain for supply chain is still in its infancy, many are running proof-of-concepts and working to resolve the potential legal issues connected to managing these transactions.
The Rise of the Machines
The rise of the machines (don’t think too hard about that Terminator reference) is making a strong impact in the world of supply chain. While some of the potential is still unseen, benefits are already coming into view. Machine learning-based predictive analytics is starting to disrupt planning for some supply chain leaders. Next on the roadmap: machine learning-powered prescriptive (harnessing the power of optimization and simulation algorithms) and predictive (building a future model based on statistical models and forecasts) analytics.
Robotics is a key area of machine learning application for the modern supply chain. Ocado’s grocery-packing robots are an example of how efficiency can be transformed through robotics. They think both independently and collectively to fill orders in the most efficient way possible. From retail store aisles to warehouses, robots know where inventory is lacking and can fill in the gaps more rapidly (and more safely, in the case of warehouses) than humans.
Finding Your Way Through the Buzz
Whether it’s 3-D printing, blockchain, or robotics that catches your eye, there are several key things to consider to make sure your investment doesn’t go to waste as you seek out a algorithmic, workflow-driven planning process.
Think about efficiencies and process improvements when evaluating a new technology. Don’t pull out your wallet for that million-dollar 3-D printing array until you’re positive the inventory savings you’ll reap by going fully build-to-order are significant enough. And don’t fall for the rise of the machines until you’re positive you can bring huge improvements to existing processes.
And finally, don’t neglect collaboration when you’re exploring these new technologies. Without effective collaboration, the millions you might spend on technology could go to waste. We believe connected planning is essential to success. Connected planning unifies all the plans of the business, from supply chain to finance, sales, marketing, and beyond. It’s real-time, cloud-based, and has the power to enable you to make the best possible decisions for today and years to come.
When you focus on efficiency, value, and collaboration, the door is opened to a huge return on investment in this age of hyped-up new technology, and a new era of planning can become reality.
Vivek Soneja is global head of supply chain for Anaplan.
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