Today’s businesses need to be very flexible and open to changes and innovation if they want to maintain a good market position. Otherwise, they just won’t survive in the modern competition. Companies that maintain traditional approaches to supply chain management have a rather low chance to stay afloat for long. One way to get a competitive advantage is to adopt automation tools. And that’s where supply chain automation enters the game. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits that your business can enjoy thanks to digitalization and what trends can be observed in this sphere.
What is supply chain automation?
In general, a supply chain unites all the steps of manufacturing and selling products. It encompasses all tasks from ordering raw materials to producing, storing, and shipping items to end users. Optimization of all these stages is an important goal for ensuring overall business success, regardless of the industry.
Process automation systems are designed to replace traditional manual methods of work with new ones based on modern tech tools. These solutions increase efficiency, facilitate many routine tasks, and save costs and time.
Popular technologies applied to automating supply chain processes include IoT, AI, ML, robotics, predictive analytics, and others.
According to recent studies, the value of the global intelligent process automation market was estimated at $33.8 billion in 2022. Analysts believe that by 2030, this figure will be at the level of $65.1 billion, while the projected CAGR over the period from 2022 to 2030 is 8.50%. It’s worth mentioning that, according to experts, European countries are expected to continue holding the biggest market share in this sphere.
According to a survey, 34% of supply chain leaders believe that one of the most important strategic changes for companies all around the world in the near future will be adapting to new technology.
Benefits of supply chain automation for businesses
Before we dive deeper into existing solutions for automation in the supply chain and logistics, let’s have a look at the key benefits companies can enjoy by replacing manual work with automated processes.
Paperwork is one of the most time-consuming aspects of supply chain management and logistics. Processing documents can take long hours and require numerous specialists. Automated systems save resources and money and let your staff concentrate on more challenging and creative tasks than just working with standard documents that can be processed by a reliable software tool.
Increasing the accuracy of data
By gathering real-time data and providing interconnectivity, it is possible to get easy access to the most valuable and useful information. Well-thought-out automation systems can help to avoid data duplication or needlessly storing information that is no longer relevant. Software tools allow employees to seamlessly update data across multiple sources and avoid mistakes. Thanks to accurate and reliable data, managers can make better informed and efficient decisions.
Transparency and visibility allow all employees from all divisions to work as a single team, regardless of their physical location, job responsibilities, and sphere of specialization. Thanks to staying on the same page, they can avoid poor business decisions, eliminate misunderstandings with clients, minimize risks of inventory management and avert order errors. Thanks to shipping automation, it is possible to ensure better transparency of deliveries, which boosts customer satisfaction by providing purchasers with up-to-date, relevant information.
Improving customer service
Thanks to automation, all stages of a supply chain, including delivery, can take less time at lower cost, allowing companies to offer competitive prices and excellent service quality. Today, the demands and expectations of customers are extremely high, and companies that adopt tech solutions in a timely way are able to satisfy them.
Types of supply chain automation solutions
Below are various categories of supply chain automation solutions that can help your company transform the way you do business and help you cope with supply chain management tasks. Not all the functionality mentioned below must be included in your system. When you are developing a custom solution, it can be fully tailored to your needs and contain only those features most valuable to you.
Logistics process automation
Using IoT devices has already become standard in the logistics industry, allowing companies to significantly increase service standards and achieve higher customer satisfaction, thanks to using the most relevant data in their decision-making. Automated route planning, real-time location tracking, and smart reporting are only a few of the many opportunities companies can benefit from thanks to automation. With smart devices installed on vehicles, logistics operators can better manage their fleets and track their mechanical status. Predictive maintenance systems can let them avoid situations when goods can’t reach their destination due to problems with trucks.
Data management automation
This type of digital process automation software tool can be of great use for any organization or enterprise. Entering and sharing data is not only time-consuming but also an error-prone task across the whole supply chain, with a countless number of documents required. That explains the popularity of solutions that can extract and process information from scanned and digital documents as well as those that can automatically create standard documents and update the relevant information.
Warehouse management automation
Warehouse systems can include a lot of machines and devices, including driverless vehicles, robots, automated sorting systems, code scanners, various sensors for monitoring the conditions of stored goods, etc. Thanks to warehouse automation, it is possible to streamline deliveries, efficiently execute inventory management, increase worker safety, reduce operating costs, and manage orders without human errors.
This is one more type of solution hugely important in the business world. While legacy tools used for supply chain and logistics management typically were reactive in nature, modern approaches offer the ability to take proactive measures. Predictive analytics helps businesses define ongoing and future market trends and adjust their business strategies to new conditions.
Supply chain automation tools
To help you better understand how supply chains can benefit from automation, we offer you to have a look at the examples of tools that can be implemented.
- Automatic storage and retrieval systems. A usual AS/RS typically includes such elements as micro-loads, cranes, stickers, vertical lift modules, and carousels that can move goods across warehousing facilities. Workers at such facilities can manage these devices and equipment via a mobile or web app.
- GPS-powered tools for supply chains. The introduction of both GPS software tools and GPS physical trackers can be of great use for supply chain automation. Thanks to this technology, companies can get the most relevant real-time information on the location of their delivery vehicles and ensure higher safety and efficiency of all the processes. The collected data plays a vital role in route optimization as well as in the automation of the interaction with customers. The real-time information can be made available not only to employees but also to customers who will be able to monitor their deliveries on their own.
- Voice-controlled picking systems. In this case, pickers have special headsets and microphones that are connected to a common voice agent powered by Artificial Intelligence. The system assigns tasks to them based on real-time orders received from customers. Pickers receive automatically generated voice commands and can understand where they should go and what items they need to grab. They also can ask questions if they need specifications. Once the task is completed, employees get new assignments from these supply chain automation tools.
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Enterprise solution for supply chain automation by Cogniteq
In our portfolio, you can find examples of successfully developed and deployed solutions for automation in the supply chain and logistics. One was built for a 4PL-service provider that offers logistics solutions for projects all over the world.
This mobile application allows participants in supply chains to do real-time monitoring on all shipping steps. This is possible thanks to scanning of barcodes placed on pallets and QR codes placed on packages, providing instant visibility for customers. A user who scans a code can also attach a photo and write a description for each code.
At the moment, this app is actively used by the company’s network of partners and clients.
Tech trends in supply chain automation
Despite the impressively high level of tech development in this field, there is still room for progress. The evolving trends described below are among the most promising for automation.
Driverless vehicles, drones, and robots can greatly complement existing automation systems and help to deal with intensive physical tasks. Such machines and devices can be operated fully remotely, which helps optimize labor costs and increase safety at working facilities.
This is a new approach to automating as many processes as possible by involving multiple technologies. Thanks to combining the most advanced tech tools, businesses can achieve significantly better results than they get with traditional management software. ML, AI, IoT, and big data are among the most popular choices for such systems.
Digital supply chain twin
A digital twin can be described as a digital representation of the physical supply chain. It can be used as a basis for decision-making and helps to ensure that decisions will be beneficial for all participants of the supply chain. Thanks to these solutions, business decisions will become more accurate and efficient.
Next-gen robots have already started to leave science laboratories and step-by-step are moving closer to companies’ facilities. These new robots will adapt more easily to changing conditions and be much more flexible. As a result, they will be able to fulfill a wide range of tasks. It is expected that in the future, many businesses will rely on fleets of robots for many tasks.
Focus on data security
Security issues still remain quite pressing throughout the entire supply chain. Hackers have sophisticated tools that allow them to gain access to the most sensitive business data. That’s why, for developers, it is vital not only to think about the functionality of new-generation automation systems but also about protecting them from any external interference.
Though it is challenging to predict what exact changes will shake the industry in the years to come, we can be absolutely sure current automation trends will have a huge impact on the future. We can foresee that at some point the market will need a higher degree of automation that will streamline and facilitate processes even more than now.
It is highly unlikely that human workers will be fully excluded from supply chain management. But it is possible that they will mainly play administrative roles and be responsible for making serious business decisions.
We can’t yet speak about full supply chain management automation. But that doesn’t mean your business won’t benefit from solutions that can be built and implemented right now. If you have any ideas for a supply chain automation system, we are always ready to support you in realizing your project and providing assistance at any step you need.
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