As the New Year approaches, it is customary to look ahead and think about what the next orbit around the sun might bring our way. In the world of supply chain, we can look forward to the continued build-out of key technologies and tools that is already underway and promises to accelerate as companies strive to compete on a global basis in a climate of shifting tariffs and political posturing.
These technology areas are likely to see the most investment and the most progress in their maturation and implementation:
Now that IIoT sensors and devices are proliferating in the plant and throughout the supply chain, companies are awash in data and struggling to make effective use of it. ERP developers are beefing up their connection to, and use of, big data as well as improving analytics and data visualization offerings. Third-party analytics will become more ‘consumerized’ to allow functional managers and executives to work with the data without so much need to engage a data scientist to help them.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will help supply chain managers tighten control of far-flung supply chains by watching those IIoT feeds, detecting the slightest deviation from the expected, and formulating the proper response based on past experience and optimization.
Expect the Digital Twin concept to continue to grow among companies that have an established PLM process, and those that are committed to a digital transformation. Sadly, the rest of the manufacturing community will continue to lag as they are distracted by other initiatives like those listed in this blog.
While Augmented Reality (AR, sometimes called Mixed Reality) is making headway in maintenance and repair, companies will start to realize how powerful it can be on the plant floor and in the warehouse for presenting work instructions and other information to help workers do their jobs more effectively. Virtual Reality may start showing up in analytics and data visualization applications as companies struggle to understand the intelligence buried in their Big Data.
Additive Manufacturing (also commonly called 3D printing) is moving from the lab and the engineering department into production in a growing number of plants and industries. Aerospace is leading the way by showing that 3D printed parts can perform well in critical applications like jet engines and rocket motors. Engineers in other industries are taking notice and are eager to include additive to their plants’ capabilities.
The work on autonomous and self-driving vehicles for the streets and highways will pay dividends in the plant and the supply chain. Self-directed moving shelves are already well established in Amazon warehouses and spreading to other warehouses around the world. Wal-Mart is rolling out self-driving floor cleaner machines in dozens of stores this year. Material movement systems in plants and warehouses will include self-driving technologies before long. And, of course, self-driving trucks should be hitting the highways soon.
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