There are many potential disruptors to the supply chain status quo, from climate/weather to economic forces and everything else in between. However, more than these temporary, cyclical influences, there are fundamental forces at work that threaten to not just disrupt, but rather to fully transform the face of supply chain management and, more specifically, the logistics portion of the chain. Here is a digest of some of the most recent examples of these looming trends from some of the most respected media outlets.
Driverless Freight Transport | When the ATA issued its first ever policy on the development of automated trucks, we could only conclude that the days of the carbon-based truck driver were numbered. Self-driving semi-truck technology is racing toward the inevitable conclusion of technological achievement. No one disputes that the change is coming. The only question is “when will the day arrive”? Whether it is next year or next decade, the impact of this radical shift in the trucking industry will have an outsized impact on not just the transportation logistics industry, but the entire field of automated supply chain management.
3D Printing | As unsettling as the automation of drivers is, there are other, far more serious disruptive advances looming on the horizon and rapidly approaching. 3D printing uses processes similar to inkjet printing. Though, instead of ink, a 3D printer uses polymers, ceramics and sometimes even metals, applied in successive layers, to produce three dimensional objects. This technology is particularly well-suited to produce smaller sized parts for all kinds of applications. Auto parts and machine parts of all varieties, currently produced at manufacturing plants and shipped to destinations everywhere, could soon be produced on site anywhere with 3D printing tech. And the price of 3D printing is plummeting as adoption of the technology continues to increase. Mercedes-Benz Trucks is already permitting customers to 3D print replacement parts for freight trucks using designs they supply. This is another technology just starting to hit its stride but universally expected to mushroom. Forward looking logistics and supply chain practitioners agree this capability will continue to erode long-distance shipping volumes for manufacturers of all stripes.
Indoor Farming | Another high-volume shipping model – that of agriculture production – is threatened by advancements in the perfecting of vertical farming. This new paradigm for food production involves converting distressed warehouse and factory space in urban areas into indoor farms growing fresh, pesticide free vegetables. The ability to farm in the heart of population centers may have enormous impact on transportation logistics and ag supply chain management. Whereas today, out of season fresh produce is trucked in across thousands of miles from southerly latitudes to northerly ones during the winter, vertical farming promises to make farm fresh produce locally available all year long regardless of latitude or climate.
No matter how these or other emerging technologies reshape the networks and operations of some of the world’s largest industries, the remaining constant will certainly be continued reliance on the logistics and supply chain management tools and applications needed to adapt to changes as they occur. Are your processes and practices up to the task of flexing in real time?