Shipping and fulfillment logistics have been hindered for more than two years by a combination of pandemic conditions, international conflict, inflation, rising fuel costs, extreme weather, and more. The businesses that have shown the most agility and flexibility during the disruptions of the past eighteen months have been rewarded handsomely for their innovation.
Shippers, carriers, and ecommerce leaders see a lot of opportunity to use emerging technology as a source of competitive advantage. Let’s look at some of the trends we’re seeing in tech adoption so far this year.
Trend #1: Increasing automation
Automation has entered the supply chain in a number of key instances. AI is well-poised to take on repetitive tasks in the warehouse – inventory management, for example – and high-risk activities, like operating heavy machinery. This helps to address shortages in labor supply in the warehousing industry while improving productivity and worker safety, sustainability, and ROI. Trend watchers predict that 75% of large enterprises will have adopted some form of smart robots in their warehouse by 2026.
Automation is also increasing visibility along the supply chain. Powerful telematics and sensing software allows for live tracking of assets, so logistics teams can document the real-time flow of goods in and out of warehouses. Adding AI-powered scheduling and tracking to telematics helps to minimize costly errors and reduce driver wait-time in the yard. It’s expected that automation will soon hit the open road, thanks to driverless delivery vehicles like Nuro for last-mile delivery.
Trend #2: Quality data, not quantity
With the growing popularity of IoT edge devices across transport and logistics sectors, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of data available. Many companies are realizing that having a lot of low-quality data is about as useful as having no data at all.
New technologies which are aimed at improving the quality of data, both sourcing and processing, will prove to be game changing for determining which insights are most valuable.
How is that being done? A combination of increased data collection points, more refined and uniform collection methods, and selective machine learning that pinpoints higher quality data sets are enabling better outcomes. For example, AI-powered data rendering on Bills of Lading and other documents allows telematics software to read the actual documents, rather than relying on human-collected images that often can’t be processed due to errors or poor photo quality.
Trend #3: Improved data tracking
Improved supply chain visibility and more actionable, uniform data collection unlock a world of new capabilities for shippers and receivers. For one, new technology has made shipping temperature and time sensitive perishable goods less risky. Having real-time tracking data for time-sensitive cargo is now a reality, and targeted data sets allow companies to minimize spoiled cargo while providing customer service that provides an additional edge over competitors. Companies like Parsyl are transforming the increasingly-important cold chain with powerful technology.
That’s not all. When it is accurately sourced, real-time utilization data and stationary time of cargo from telematics can provide actionable insights into global capacity shortfalls so that they can be anticipated and adjusted for. Similar data sets can be used to target trailer utilization, to streamline decision making on which trailers are road-ready and when to optimize maintenance scheduling.
Trend #4: Regionalization in the supply chain
A globalized supply chain, for decades a source of competitive advantage, has turned into a liability as access to raw materials, parts, and manufactured goods have been impacted by shipping bottlenecks, factory shutdowns, and other unprecedented and unpredictable snags.
As disruptions snarled the supply chain last year, solutions were hard to come by. Many firms are now looking at reshoring – bringing manufacturing back to the country where the company is located – to head off shortages of critical materials. The end result will likely be a mix of both regional and global supply chains that will require a delicate infrastructural balance to maintain.
Take for example the similar phenomena of hub warehousing. More retailers and even some manufacturers are moving factories and fulfillment centers closer to customers to reduce miles traveled to the end consumer. The result is a decrease in turnaround times, and improved visibility and transparency. It requires sophisticated software interconnectivity to balance and manage stock, document freight movement, and handle reverse logistics at smaller facilities.
Companies that will continue to rely on international trade as an essential component of their business are increasingly turning to 3PLs to streamline access to major ports and limit potential sources of disruption.
There’s an opportunity for both shippers and retailers to capitalize on uncertain conditions by optimizing supply chain operations with the new technology available. Innovation that is designed to streamline and accelerate supply chains is getting better by the day – and fortunately, it’s not too late to gain a competitive edge.