While robots are already being employed in supply chain operations to support repetitive and physically demanding tasks, a new generation of collaborative robotics and automated solutions are set to take supply chain capabilities to the next level in the future.
Supply chain automation offers numerous benefits, including improved demand forecasting and quicker response times, providing managers access to accurate, real-time information. It will also improve production planning and control of inventory stock through a centralised coordination of key data.
Barcode technology has played a significant role in refining the accuracy and efficiency of stock control. The technology allows for the automatic updating of information, providing details of available quantities of inventory stock on-hand and by optimising inventory control and reporting functions.
Automation offers many more options for improving supply chain management. Let’s take a sneak peek at the future of supply chain automation.
Machine learning helps balance the difficulties of supply and demand forecasting of inventory stock needs. Based on smart algorithms and intelligent analysis of big data sets, machine learning helps optimise logistic operations and the delivery of goods.
The significant quantity of new data generated by automated technologies, coupled with endless loop forecasting capabilities, is set to reform warehouse management and supply chain efficiencies. Companies can now utilise a combination of machine learning algorithms with physical robots to maximise their supply chain management.
In recent years, additive manufacturing has proven to be a valuable tool for traditionally resource-intense tasks. Three dimensional (3D) printing, with faster lead times and tooling-free production, is now claiming its place in supply chain operations.
Through greater integration with existing supply chains, 3D printing enables the development of efficient digital supply chains and greater collaboration between service providers. This can create leaner supply chains, optimise product offerings and facilitate fewer stock risks.
Offering significantly improved performance and enhanced sensing capacity, the integration of robots into the supply chain will provide a real alternative to manual handling. Robotics are already working side-by-side in logistics operations with employees providing flexible automation in warehouse and fulfilment centre.
Collaborative robots come equipped with high-resolution cameras, pressure sensors, and self-learning capabilities that can assist employees with the picking, packing and sorting of inventory stock.
Robotics can also be used to manage inbound and outbound processes to improve efficiencies in order and delivery tasks. For example, fully automated trolleys can follow pickers throughout the warehouse, undertaking most of the physical work and can make the move from single to multi-order picking far more efficient.
The potential for robotics to be used in supply chain operations include self-driving vehicles and automated guide vehicles within warehouses. This allows inventory stock to be moved around facilities without the need for impractical large vehicles.
Driverless vehicles also have the potential to provide supply chains with access to a huge resource for moving products as the demand for quicker delivery times to consumers increases.
Logistics and supply chain operators can also leverage trends in automation to overcome the challenges inherent when driver shortages occur. Equally, automated vehicle systems can work side-by-side with drivers to enhance safety and maintain vehicle control.
The future of supply chain automation
Robotic process automation has the capacity to automate an entire supply chain from end to end. Successful supply chains of the future are those businesses that adapt to the changes in sourcing, production and distribution to take advantage of new and emerging automated technologies.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.