In the fast-paced world of logistics, today, logistics managers need all of the help they can get. With labor shortages in many supply chains, logistics managers and freight planners rely on technology to fill in the gaps. Many of the tech trends in 2019 revolve around buzzwords like “Automation,” “Digital Supply Chains,” or “Big Data” and are readily available for users to import into their supply chains. Several though, are simply gaining more traction in research and development and discovering areas where this technology will be of use. See below for our list of top Tech Trends of 2019.
Automation is a strong area for immediate implementation but much of this technology is still in development. Areas like warehousing have seen the benefit of automation for years and some technologies like drone vehicles have become the stepping stone to fully automated technologies.
Warehouses are one of the most popular places for automation to flourish in 2019. Rising e-commerce demands paired with a nearly half million laborer shortage, warehouses will significantly benefit from what modern automation has to offer.
Modern warehouse robots significantly reduce the effects of labor shortages. These robots can be utilized individually or as a part of an entire automated system – much like the manufacturing sector has done for years. One upcoming trend is utilizing robotics for picking and conveying material in and around warehouses. These devices can be dispatched to a specific shelving unit to collect the requested freight. Then, they are used to convey those pallets or freight around the warehouse to be processed and shipped. They accomplish it with complex onboard navigation guides that utilize intricate warehouse mapping technology. These types of robots are becoming increasingly more popular and more affordable; so, as a result, more warehouses will be using these in 2019.
Warehouse Management Systems (WMSs) have been increasingly progressing each year as more technology becomes cheaper and readily available. Sensor technology and IoT has allowed WMSs to accurately map warehouses and record detailed SKU inventory levels, product cycle placement, and physical location at any time. Also, with more advanced algorithms, technology like [Machine Learning] can even sort products and identify ones that are not suitable for shipping. These new systems provide complete product visibility and control to warehouse managers.
These systems are highly detailed, automated conveyor technology that can help move products around warehouses effortlessly. Instead of individual robot laborers, these systems operate an intricate system of conveyor belts and lifts to move packages around a warehouse. The systems are highly efficient and expend low amounts of energy to move freight. They can help companies promote sustainability as well by utilizing reusable plastic containers instead of wasteful cardboard options. Warehouses can format these specifically to their needs and expand or reduce the amount they need as time goes on. Humans can easily be the end-users for these conveyors, but other warehouses, like retail giants Walmart and Kroger – are testing fully utilized robotics in conjunction with these shuttles for their entire warehouse processes. Items can be stacked, stored, picked, packed, processed, and shipped automatically thanks to extensive conveyor networks, robotic arms, and advanced sensor algorithms. After these warehouses demonstrate the effectiveness of full automation, more retailers and warehouses are sure to follow.
Unmanned vehicles have been around for much of the past century, often used by the military for combat and reconnaissance. It was not until 2006, however, that the first commercial drone permit was issued for small aerial drones. In 2013, retailer Amazon expressed an interest in using aerial drones for last mile delivery applications. Since that time, UAVs and other unmanned vehicles have become the rage for recreation and commercial purposes.
Most people likely think of two things when they here this term: MQ-1 Predator drones used by the military or smaller copter drones used for recreation. In 2019, more logistics companies are focusing on the smaller, propeller versions for last mile delivery applications. With the increased demand for next day (sometimes same day) delivery, retailers like Amazon and others are looking for ways to speed up delivery times. Drone deliveries are on the forefront of this study. Currently, these commercial UAVs have a light payload (some around 35-pound maximum capacity), limited flight time (under one hour – some as low as 20 minutes), and are mainly used for photography; but researchers are studying ways to develop and perfect this technology to make it more suitable for costly last mile deliveries. Companies, like Dominos Pizza, have proven that piloted drones are a viable delivery option through their successful test flights delivering pizzas; it is only a matter of time before other organizations utilize this technology and unpiloted options are available as well.
At this time, unmanned, piloted vessels have been tested and are quickly in further development. In 2017, Rolls Royce demonstrated they could successfully remotely pilot a commercial cargo ship through a narrow channel in Denmark, but since then, the technology has developed to fully automated cargo vessels. Specifically, two Norwegian companies have come together to develop an unmanned, automated cargo ship capable of sailing the open sea. Developers cite that the technology is ready for full implementation, but they are still overcoming business and financial hurdles. The ship is said to be ready to set sail by late 2019-early 2020.
Currently the most anticipated, and arguably most important automated technology on this list; unmanned trucking technology is close on the horizon but not developed enough yet for full implementation on the road. The American Trucking Association and US BLS estimate that with the growing economy, the US logistics industry will be short close to 890,000 drivers in the next ten years. Drivers cite health problems, regulations, and lifestyle issues to be some of their top concerns and reasons more drivers are difficult to recruit. Researchers are hoping unmanned trucks will be the answer. Silicon Valley tech companies like Starsky Robotics and Uber have had success with automated vehicles on highway and yard tests. Starsky even touts that they have run successful fully unmanned (no safety driver in the truck or safety engineer outside the truck) end-to-end tests. Currently, these companies are finishing safety protocols to account for malfunctions or other truck failures but looks to see a higher number and more sophisticated tests by the end of the year.
In 2019, more supply chains will be going digital. The ease and convenience these online platforms provide allow customers to get what they want, how they want it, as fast as they want it. The key to the online structure is the central digital tower made up of a complex network of cloud, big data, and industrial IoT that enable traditional networks end-to-end visibility, deeper insights, and faster response times than previously held. Many companies are already prepared for this transition with sensor technology like RFID in their warehouses, GPS tracking in their vehicles, EDI, API, and online collaborative transportation management systems. All they require is to integrate their purchasing, planning, and logistics processes into the centralized digital tower platform. Combined with the computerized learning, these companies will be more competitive and will be able to more quickly respond to changing customer demands.
Funneling these processes together in an online, centralized hub and applying cognitive analysis technology can help improve decision making speed and accuracy as well as guard against supply chain interruptions. Other benefits include:
• Real-time visibility
• Richer idea and improvement streams
• Round the clock access
• Real-time metrics
• Supplier performance data
Digital Control Towers are a centralized group of tools that allow supply chain managers to fully visualize the chain end-to-end, intervene and direct for various operations, collaborate with extended portions of the supply chain, and automate routine functions. This is the central hub of a digital supply chain where each process interacts. The technology is becoming more sophisticated; it has grown from a platform that only provides visibility to direct trade partners to instead providing real-time updates, solutions, and control. The boost in popularity is largely due to successful collaborative management features and AI advancements.
Modern logistics service providers (LSPs) often offer sophisticated online transportation management systems (TMSs) that allow shippers, customers, and logistics service providers complete, collaborative access to scheduling, planning, processing, and managing shipments. In 2019, these programs are expanding with the aid of IoT data tracking to capture real-time metrics and provide condition updates to stakeholders. Users are given control to manage their individual networks or operate with a hands-off approach by outsourcing to a logistics service provide.
Those who prefer direct control can utilize developing management systems to find carriers, schedule loads, and follow load progression. Modern systems, (like Uber Freight) developed by Silicone Valley and others, give users control of their loads much the same as a ride sharing application might. These are quick, no hassle options that offer visibility and control to all involved. Each individual techno-broker option has its strengths and drawbacks, but each offer convenience and control.
Instead of developing in-house TMSs or partnering with online brokerages, many companies will partner with traditional 3PLs and other service providers to manage their freight for them. With the economy growing and the e-commerce boom, the demand for drivers and carriers is higher than ever, but the driver supply is steadily decreasing. Many shippers have resorted to traditional methods like load boards and freight marketplaces to find carriers. Often these options are out of network and must be deadheaded in and shippers pay higher prices. This year, however, more companies are pairing with 3PLs to assist with capacity shortages. 3PLs offer many advantages that working independently cannot:
• Increased Asset Utilization
• Improved Service Levels
• Increased Visibility
• Improved End-Customer Satisfaction
• Increased Ability to Grow Business
Traditional 3PLs are quickly integrating digital supply chain necessities as well to keep up with the fast-paced demand of the digital age. Most offer intuitive [TMS applications] that allow users to be as interactive as they want, but also provide the live support backstop that users require. Users can access collaborative features like inputting load requests, issue intervention or correction, and progress updates, or operate automatically with scheduled milestones or real-time data.
End-to-end visibility has been a long-time concern for many logistics customers. Customers value seeing what is happening with their shipments at any given time and having a sense of control in the process. Modern technology is helping users see more than just internal process visibility, but offer detailed, up-to-the-minute insights and metrics. This helps users make more informed, better, and quicker decisions as well as peace of mind as to the status of each shipment.
Today, more processes are being simplified with Internet of Things applications. Having the internet on cell phones and other handheld devices as well as built in to other hardware allows users to connect and derive data instantaneously and quickly process it for analysis. The accessibility provides visibility, clarity, and promotes accuracy. This technology is revolutionizing logistics management by giving users a closer picture than ever before as to how their freight is moved. Users can receive
• Up-to-the-minute tracking updates with GPS location devices
• Freight accuracy with digital BOL cross-referencing
• Mobile digital scanning
• Global access to TMS and other network data
• Real-time metrics
• Decisive analysis capabilities
IoT data can provide users with the clarity and access they need to prevent supply chain interruptions, and combined with cognitive analysis technology, like A.I. or machine learning, can rapidly improve decision making.
Once IoT collects data, cognitive analysis technology can help interpret it. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), machine learning, and other self-learning systems are all portions of cognitive analysis technology and are rapidly advancing the logistics industry. A.I. is an up and coming portion of many digital supply chains that trains computers to do things that humans do, but more efficiently. It allows routine processes to be automated – giving humans a chance to process and perform more important tasks. An application of A.I., machine learning, teaches computers to learn and improve from experience. In logistics, this technology can be used to
• Crunch large amounts of complex data – quicker and more accurately than a human could
• Provide performance management insight
• Recognize patterns
• Contextualize intelligence – let users know what is relevant and what is not.
• Forecast demand
• Improve planning and quality management
• Increase visibility
Application of this analysis technology is virtually limitless. Before long, it will not only aid in decision making, but become the decision maker. It will compose raw data into patterns and trends and use the trends to evaluate situations. Human processes, like inputting load requests for instance, can be eliminated by programming milestone alerts when a product’s inventory level reaches a certain level. Areas like smart contracts already utilize this technology to determine when a contract is fulfilled. It is also used for automatic document transfer and updates via EDI or API.
Application programing interface (API) is a new and improved take on EDI technology. While EDI predates the internet, API is a newer technology that allows two applications to be connected and communicate with one another in real time. The interface is a set of programming instructions and standards for how systems communicate with one another, and it is faster and more reliable than EDI. It can process data in milliseconds and is an ideal process for online transactions. Some other advantages API has over EDI include:
• Real-time use – EDI operates at specific times only whereas API can run at any time.
• Lower integration costs – cheaper and less complex than EDI systems and can shorten implementation times to weeks instead of months.
• Easily scalable – can offer automation and EDI cannot.
• Confirms Data Exchange – APIs will respond if the requested action was successful or not but EDI will not.
So far, the bulk of technology trends of 2019 have been information and data related. Harvesting data. Processing data. Interpreting data. All these processes are the make-up of big data. Big data is an extremely large data set group that can be analyzed for patterns, trends, and associations and is the fuel for powering the digital supply chain.
This year, more than ever, data is more readily available and easy to capture. More companies are using hardware like sensors, scanners, and GPS trackers to pinpoint exactly where their cargo is at any time software to capture data, compile, and interpret it. Big data gives the greatest visibility to supply chains that shippers, customers, and LSPs have ever seen, but it requires particular know-how to interpret the data and make decisions based on it.
Since data analysis is so vital, and now easily accessible, more companies are looking for ways to protect their data’s integrity. More groups are looking for stronger protection networks and better firewalls. One of the more popular emerging defenses is blockchain.
Blockchain is the popular method used to protect Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency’s data integrity. It is secure because of the non-centralized nature of the information, the high barriers to entry, and the visibility of the data. All information put into block chain is copied identically and spread across a wide network of computers – making data violation difficult and expensive (high priced computer power needed). It is an ideal solution for the logistics industry as it provides indisputable evidence of product sourcing, creates stronger contracts, and preserves the correct data.
Data and software trends are not the only up-and-coming technology of 2019 – more hardware options are becoming available too. According to some industry leaders, these emerging tech options are mostly currently available, but are being fully developed for logistics use or are being perfected for release.
• 3D Printing – This technology is currently available but limited for most consumers. Logistics leaders are looking for ways to develop this technology to make it cheaper and easier to create products on hand as necessary. A major tenet of Lean Theory is limited inventory and creating what is needed when needed is the very definition of limited.
• Low-Cost Sensors – also exists but for some the cost is out of reach. Large quantity usage like in warehouses or with RFID tags can be more expensive, but researchers are currently developing cheaper, equally effective options.
• Augmented Reality – Closely related to virtual reality (VR), AR is an emerging technology that allows users to see projected images in front of them. Currently, limited devices exist that enhance driving experiences with projected dashboards, safety warnings, and other notifications broadcast on the windshield that help drivers further grasp the world around them. These are in production and should be widely available at the start of next year.
• Bionic Enhancement – This last trend can be particularly useful in manufacturing and warehouse applications. Often manual labor brings joint pain and other hazards, but with upcoming technology some of that pain can be alleviated. Currently there are products that improve: posture, joint pain, feet pain, visibility, and much more. There are wearable chairs, reaching and grabbing devices, braces, and many more pain relief and efficiency devices ideally suited for logistics workers.
Logistics is one of the busiest and all-encompassing industries in the labor market – nearly every other industry relies on logistics to facilitate it. So, with the fast-paced demands, logistics managers need help filling in for shortages in the labor market. Often, they turn to technology to fill the gaps. Technology trends today provide assistance, convenience, security, and efficiency to logistics to make shipments faster, cheaper, more accurate, and ultimately provide better customer service for the consumer. Much of 2019’s trends involve big data collection and analysis as well as automation and hardware options – each new device or program will help companies improve their service, provide better for their customers, and grow their business.