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7 Supply Chain Technologies for Better Supply Chain Management

Discover the supply chain technologies that can help improve your manufacturing processes, automate operations, and give you a competitive edge.

Supply chain management is a complex and directed system used to get high-quality and low-cost products to consumers. It keeps companies operating smoothly and efficiently while promoting customer-centric processes to guarantee the utmost satisfaction. New technology is changing the face of supply chain management, making real-time tracking and accurate and fast delivery times imperative for successful business progression. Supply chain management technology is difficult to integrate within large companies. Still, the payoffs are undeniable, with handheld devices, digital transformation, and competitive operating methods paving the way to a new era of manufacturing. 

Supply chain management is essential to company success by improving customer service, reducing operating costs, and boosting your financial standing, but it's also constantly evolving, and it's vital that companies get on board with modern practices. The introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated processes are changing manufacturing operations and the world of commerce. The contemporary customer expects accuracy, quality, and high-speed performance, meaning faster turnaround times, retaining the same superior results. Up-to-date supply chain management uses end-to-end business processes to align with increasing market and economic values, realizing and maximizing its competitive edge.

As the world advances, manufacturing leaders must be willing to evolve their processes and progress into a new phase of industry or the fourth revolution. Industry 4.0 unlocks the benefits of robotics, automation, and digital software tools or "smart" systems able to integrate operations and expand possibilities. Advanced manufacturing isn't the replacement of humans, but rather the improvement of methods, allowing for heightened precision and efficiency via the inclusion of artificial intelligence and robots, working alongside humans for better business and an enhanced bottom line. 

Reach out to Propel today to learn how you can get ahead of your competition. 

The Impact of Technology on Supply Chain Management

Supply chain management thrives on innovation, logistics, and analysis. Over the last several decades, this process is changing due to the introduction of new technologies, transforming into a more efficient, transparent, and collaborative endeavor. Some clear impacts and benefits of technology on supply chain management and its push into the 21st century include:

Improved Supply Chain Communication

Supply chain management cannot be successful without adequate and effective communication. These complex networks rely on synergy and many codependents or reciprocal elements. Communication is key to linking each facet of the chain to create a solid flow of production, where operations proceed without bumps that would reduce the overall quality of the end product. 

The instant connection between employees and supervisors, and constant visibility of all the working parts of manufacturing from warehouse to delivery to corporate tasks, keeps all functions simultaneous, quick, and accurate, achieving maximum productivity and eliminating unnecessary waste or lulls, which leads to the ultimate outcome of a satisfied customer. In addition, the organization achieved by optimized communication with mobile devices, voice-based directives, scanners and location trackers, and monitoring capabilities that allow for immediate solutions to hiccups in the chain, can speed up fulfillment rates equating to rapid service, happier customers, and increased revenues. 

Greater Efficiency in Supply Chain Processes

Digital equipment, including software and hardware solutions to automate manufacturing processes, can streamline and simplify operations, secure information transfer, and supply chain efficiency. Integrating systems provides heightened collaboration efforts to keep things running smoothly and speedily. Swift responses to breakdowns within the chain save time and resources, leading to enhanced production and outcomes. 

Instant data collection and analysis allows for fast decisions and solutions, identifying problem areas and resolving them before a massive breach occurs somewhere in the production sequence, from conception to the warehouse to the customers' hands. In addition, data collection is secure, accurate, and storable using handheld mobile devices and automated processes, helping manufacturers improve operations with more effective and efficient methodologies. 

More Transparency in Supply Chain Visibility

Consistency is important to deliver a presentable and acceptable product that aligns with the company brand. To ensure proper and reliable handling of operations, transparency is essential. Easy access to up-to-date visibility allows employees and supervisors to intercept when necessary to safeguard the end-product. 

Transparency also extends to consumers, enabling them to check on the status of deliveries and be a part of the production process. Customization and instructions direct to the manufacturer keep the buyer in the loop and guarantee a product they'll be proud to purchase and own as it meets their individualized standards. Manufacturing leaders and customers alike know exactly what they're going to get with improved visibility enhanced by supply chain technology. 

Top Supply Chain Technology for the Future

Supply chain technology is growing and changing with a new era of digitization to improve manufacturing processes and automate operations. Implementing innovative technologies can provide your company with the competitive edge you need to stand out within the industry and make an impact on your customer base. As your clientele evolves, your business must take note and transform alongside it. Products are becoming more complex, companies are operating more globally, and customers are making heightened demands. Going digital is the only way to organize and streamline your practices to ensure quality performance from start to end. 

Seven supply chain technologies to progress your manufacturing business forward include:

1. The Internet of Things (IoT)

Industry insiders project the IoT market to grow by 24.9% by 2027. As a result, more and more aspects of manufacturing will become connected and integrated to deliver insights and inform supply chain management. IDC manufacturing insights expects specific manufacturing businesses, including discrete manufacturers, process manufacturers, and transportation companies, to invest most heavily on IoT deployments, taking advantage of improved manufacturing operations, production assets management, and freight monitoring and fleet management. 

For example, advanced tracking methods and analytics can alert suppliers to save goods that might otherwise spoil en route to consumers by rerouting packages to closer distribution centers due to equipment malfunctions or poor traveling conditions. Eliminating waste and having the ability to intervene with other inventory mishaps or misplacements can reduce lost revenues resulting purely from logistics failures or oversights, thereby generating higher revenues based on more streamlined processes and successful outcomes. 

IoT isn't without risks. Using the internet to control your business operations opens you up to cybersecurity dangers, but its impact on your manufacturing processes can outweigh any inherent hazards. IoT can help pinpoint what you need to pay heed to and what you can dismiss, detecting patterns and possible problems before they happen, giving you insight into what works and what doesn't, and how you can do better. This is valuable and indispensable information for anyone to have if they want an edge on others. 

2. 5G and Starlink

Along with IoT associations, the introduction of 5G into supply chain management will be a massive shift to the industry, improving internet speed and latency or processing time for manufacturing processes. Cellular phone companies began rolling out this technology around the globe in 2019. In less than five years, researchers expect that nearly 2 billion mobile users worldwide will subscribe to 5G. 5G networks differ in that they involve cloud technologies to drive wireless connections. Software-based capabilities can advance automation and data processing.  

Additionally, Starlink may allow faster internet in more rural areas, allowing for manufacturing expansion into these currently neglected regions. Starlink provides satellite Internet access to extend online communications and connections. This new technology replaces expensive and unreliable services, giving remote locations an opportunity to invest more readily in commerce and essentially opening up an entirely new customer pool. 

3. Blockchains for Supply Chains

Blockchain technology ensures that transactions are validated, recorded, and encrypted. They replace slow, manual processes and strengthen traceability. Created to support bitcoin or cryptocurrency transactions, blockchains are expanding into other business sectors, including the manufacturing industry, to address supply chain management issues, such as tracing the ownership of goods. 

This internet-based technology operates as an independent, digitized ledger to record transactions and distribute them to other users within the network worldwide. Blockchains use encryption for these transactions, ensuring heightened security and immediate transmissions. Each transmission or block links together to form a chain, deriving the name blockchain. 

Permissionless ledgers exist on public domains allowing for consensus verification. At the same time, known or trusted users can centralize permissioned ledgers, which users cannot change once "nodes" within the transaction approve all actions within the sequence or data set. This distinction is important for supply chain management to gain private validations of data in real-time for superior analysis and visualization. 

4. AI and Machine Learning

The harrowing year of 2020 forced businesses to rethink their operations to remain relevant and competitive amid a pandemic that rocked the globe, making innovation imperative to avoid disrupting demand and revenues and keep "doors open" in new ways. As a result, digitization and automation became necessary to keep the wheels of commerce turning. An Oxford Economics Survey found that 70% of businesses surveyed have implemented or tested artificial intelligence (AI) solutions in the wake of one of the most memorable years in manufacturing and consumer sales.  

AI can make better decisions and has already been used to help reduce empty freight trips or plan labor resources. Companies implementing AI perform stronger with better results than companies lagging in technological advancements. The unconventional software uses algorithms modeled on human thoughts and behaviors and can modify its processes over time based on intel from past operations. In other words, it learns and evolves to improve methods established by previous failures and successes. 

In the manufacturing world, this means smart manufacturing or using machines to analyze, compute, and make decisions in real-time, often in ways far superior to human capabilities. Machine learning leads to increased productivity and accuracy to keep costs low and operations running efficiently. The programming of machines to sense problems and send data make it easier to maintain tools and avoid lapses in production. 

Manufacturers can use predictive analytics for more than just real-time product intelligence. Supply chain analytics can help improve customer experiences, reduce costs, and optimize inventory visibility and strategic sourcing per Deloitte's 2019 Supply Chain Digital and Analytics Survey. Supply chain management relies on details and data quality to deliver big-picture values. Analytics is the way to drive the technological elements that lead to insightful tactics and beneficial results. 

5. Automation and Robots

Robots are already utilized in the supply chain to move materials or build products faster and more efficiently than humans. With the utilization of AI and IoT, robots will become more sophisticated. Manufacturing automation isn't simply using machines to replace human labor. It encompasses software and other advanced technologies to enhance and streamline operations, such as using AI to quickly detect errors in products, tools, or processes and find solutions in real-time rather than identifying a problem post-production and burdening the company with unnecessarily wasted resources. 

Additionally, using robotics in manufacturing helps ensure consistency. Engineers can program robots to do a repetitive task in the exact form every time, eliminating human error and slight deviations in product quality. For high-volume output, this type of robotic application proves successful in repeating processes in the same way and leaves room for flexibility when needed. Programmers can adjust mechanical rigidity with AI that enables a more human-like mimicking of thought patterns and problem-solving skills, giving manufacturers the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of a machine and the adaptiveness of human reasoning. 

By integrating digital applications, such as IoT and PLM, into your automation strategy, you can help your machines communicate and better share data across your organization. Management can use the information to adjust processes based on its thorough analysis and measurement of success and better plan for future production. The implementation might look different for every company, but the benefits are the same. Automation allows for heightened transparency, visibility, collaboration, planning, results, and return. 

Some ways in which robots and automation are revolutionizing the manufacturing industry include:

  • Delivery robots: These robots can help companies save on labor costs and eliminate the need to place humans in a hazardous role, thereby also reducing health and safety costs and costs due to missed work.
  • Automated trucking: Self-driving vehicles are likely in the future, with humans and machines working together to ensure the safe transport of products and materials. 
  • Sorters: Utilizing vision technology, these robots can learn as they go (AI) to recognize various materials and categorize them accordingly, eradicating a menial and time-consuming task for humans. 
  • Automated storage and retrieval: These are computer- and robot-aided systems that can move inventoried products as needed for storage or use per consumer demand. IDC predicts that by 2023, 65% of warehouses may be using robots and analytics to optimize storage and increase warehouse capacity by over 20%. 

6. Digital Supply Chain Twin

A digital twin of your supply chain system can help you optimize and make business decisions by manipulating and finding how changes would affect your supply chain management. In other words, it's a simulation model replicating current performance to help forecast and analyze various supply chain behaviors and potential problems to devise a plan. In addition, these digital supply chain twins are detailed and integral, providing live data feeds, so information and predictions are continually updated. 

Analysts create digital twins using specialized supply chain software integrated within company systems to represent and connect hundreds of assets and positions across a business chain. This software is flexible, scalable, and interoperable to identify risks in advance and make changes accordingly. Users need transparency along the supply chain for accurate and informed decision-making based on anticipated events. Essentially, digital supply chain twins provide you with data-driven insights to help improve or test processes before mistakes happen or as they're happening to prevent significant company losses. 

Manufacturers can use digital supply chain twins for the following purposes:

  • Understanding the way your supply chain operates
  • Bottleneck discoveries (i.e., anything presenting a "kink" or break in the chain, such as limited resources, poor planning or execution, inefficient time management, lack of innovative processes, etc.)
  • Testing changes or new developments to the supply chain 
  • Risk management and monitoring with the assessment of possible contingencies
  • Transportation planning
  • Inventory optimization
  • Forecasting and testing of various operational methods
  • Predictive and determinative analytics

7. Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software manages data and processes at each stage of production, servicing, and sales across the supply chain. Propel PLM is a cloud-based software built via Salesforce that aims to get better quality products in the hands of consumers faster. PLM mitigates a variety of issues faced by manufacturers throughout the lifecycle of a product, helping companies align and integrate critical resources and extend information to the team quickly, accurately, and uniformly for quick and efficient analysis and solutions. 

PLM offers a way for manufacturers to collaborate and control data while allowing for customer, partner, and organizational feedback due to increased transparency, ultimately creating better, more complex products, resulting in greater revenues and speed to consumers. Propel PLM specifically utilizes cloud technology to create a single source of truth, expediting and improving processes. Our collaborative software enhances the user experience to accommodate an evolving workforce that now operates remotely and globally, enabling multi-level communication in real-time and from different locations. 

Our goal is to shorten delivery timelines and increase your company margins up to 20%. We want to help lead your business into the future with our modern PLM software designed for the next phase of manufacturing. Contact us today to discuss your supply chain management needs and how our PLM technology can help deliver your goods.  

The Future of Supply Chain Management Technology

Supply chain management technology aims to take a good thing and make it better. Advanced manufacturing trends are getting consumers higher quality products at a quicker pace and helping manufacturers definitively pinpoint what's working and where they can see improvement to continue serving the customer per their ever-increasing and changing needs and demands. 

The future of manufacturing is years in the making and still evolving, but its far-reaching benefits are already evident throughout the industry. We are just beginning to scratch the surface of the many capabilities of future manufacturing. As the world and consumers shift and grow, manufacturers need to be ready to advance, too. It's not enough anymore to simply meet consumer demand. Industry leaders now need to adapt to, analyze, and predict consumer demand before the customer is even aware of their requests and as events are unfolding, further influencing consumer desires.  

Contact Propel today to learn about the future of manufacturing and how we can get you up to speed. 

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Be'Anka Ashaolu
Editor in Chief, Converged

Be’Anka Ashaolu is an experienced marketing operations, content marketing, and demand generation leader who is obsessed with aligning talent and responsibilities to drive measurable results. She began her career in journalism before quickly moving into marketing technology, sales operations, and integrated campaign execution in the legal, cyber security, and retail analytics spaces. Be’Anka is constantly striving to balance productivity with effectiveness, meaning: her teams don’t just get stuff done – they get the right stuff done.

Fun Fact: Be’Anka is the Co-Founder and CMO of Nirvana Soul Coffee Purveyors in downtown San Jose. She owns the coffee company with her sister, Jeronica. The two are only 11 months apart in age!

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