The driving force behind logistics and supply chain management has always been technology. This only increased with the phenomenon of the Internet and later technological solutions from 3rd party logistics providers. Owners in the past few centuries turned to inventions such as airplanes, the railroad, cars, trucks, and modern ships in increasing the bulk, speed and savings of goods deliveries. Computer technologies and application software have further revolutionized the industry of logistics with web-based programs in the supply chain.
Today’s emerging technologies are focused on speed, accuracy, security and seamless delivery. These technologies include drones, 3D printing, the internet of things (IoT), driverless vehicles and augmented reality. We discuss below how these 5 new technologies will transform 3rd party logistics provider operations forever.
The concept of 3D printing has been around as early as the 1980s. Only recently has the technology become a reality and available on a mass scale though. This revolutionary technology makes the creation of products or parts of products possible using metals, plastic, or mixed materials. So how is it going to affect logistics and supply chain management?
Additive manufacturing will democratize the manufacturing process, according to Ed Morris, director of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). Manufacturers will be able to “print” on demand and shorten the supply chain by negating buffer stock requirements in their warehouses. The implication of 3D printing for the logistics industry has potential upside implications. 3rd party logistics providers of the future will deliver raw materials instead of many finished products and may even provide 3D printing services at the point of delivery, which will be an additional source of revenue.
A hot topic for logistics directors and management is supply chain and transportation visibility. Visibility is a key issue for goods being delivered and for supply chain data as a whole. The application of the Internet of Things (IoT) along with cloud-based GPS will soon track individual items and their condition. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips will be used by IoT to have shipments “talk” to each other. Each item’s attached RFID chip will send data like identification, location, temperature, pressure, and humidity.
The implication of this capability will be immense. Unit loss and misplacement will be greatly reduced due to RFID tracking. Damages from weather can also be averted as the conditions that threaten to affect merchandise are registered and transmitted. They will also be equipped to transmit full traffic conditions and drive-specific data like driving patterns and average speed back to headquarters. 3PL providers that employ RFID with IoT and The Cloud will reap great rewards like top consumer satisfaction ratings.
While drones have not yet been adopted by 3PL companies, unmanned aircraft controlled remotely or flying autonomously via software-controlled flight plans embedded in the drone’s system are likely eminent. Future delivery by drone is not far off, but government regulations such as safety, size and weight limits must be resolved prior to deploying widespread use of this technology. These small, light, and inexpensive units have a promising future in package delivery because they operate with precision and high speed, reaching urban and remote areas quickly where other modes cannot reach or only at significant expense.
Driverless vehicles are in the trial phase but show promise as logistics and supply chain management tools. The ability to sense and navigate the environment free of human intervention makes these futuristic cars or trucks viable customer product delivery vehicles. The overhead reduction of driver shortages and salaries mean 3rd party logistics providers could substantially reduce their delivery costs. Driverless, autonomous trucks could solve trucker shortages, delays, and the long withstanding capacity crunch. Accident risks could also plummet with significant decreases in dangerous driving habits such as speeding, drunkenness and/or substance abuse, road rage, distracted driving, racing or falling asleep behind the wheel.
Augmented reality (AR) gives an augmented direct and indirect real worldview with computer-generated sensory inputs, like audio and video. Employees will gain awareness and enhanced views of their environment through AR. 3PL provider employees of the future will utilize wearable AR technology devices to obtain critical freight handling data like weight, content, and delivery address. That visibility will inherently improve goods handling, delivery speed, and reduce costs.
The logistics industry is poised on the edge of a technological revolution. These 5 emerging technologies will vastly affect and forever improve the 3PL and supply chain way of life. What ways you can you see these technologies helping your business?