While most of the advancements in automation are focused on manufacturing, automation in supply chain has played a vital role in the development of supply chains, which will be the topic of this article. Below we will cover some of the most important and impactful ways automation has impacted supply chains’ development.
Much has changed since the Industrial Revolution. Every decade has brought new advancements in automation that has propelled the industry to a level far beyond what many people thought was impossible.
What used to be seen as a work of science fiction that only cinema can bring to life on screen – with humanoids functioning among humans as either service workers or enemies – is now growing more and more into a reality, as automation has already started to seep into various industries. Among those industries is the automation in supply chain.
What Are The Advantages Of Automation In Supply Chain?
When it comes to automation in supply chain, it’s about learning about what repetitive tasks can be done automatically without wasting time and human resources on them. And with supply chains, they’ll benefit well with automation.
Why? Because supply chain networks are constantly dealing with repetitive tasks that are usually prone to human mistakes and a lot of time wasted to tend to them.
Whether it’s picking out errors and trying to solve them, or trying to fix manual documentation, or looking over shipping and receiving errors, or anything else, such processes can quickly be sent to automation to do the work for you.
With that in mind, here are four advantages of automation in supply chain:
Data processing was one of the most labor-intensive processes logistics companies had to deal with in the past. In a globalized world such as the one we live in, information is coming and going from so many different sources, and it is not always easy to capture, store, sort, and analyze on time.
Aside from this, there is no shortage of in-house data that needs to be tracked, such as order quantity, stock, employee hours, and incoming/outgoing shipments.
On top of this, automation can also automatically re-ordering certain products once the on-hand stock reaches a certain level. This is another way automation in supply chain can help logistics businesses save time, be more efficient, and make fewer mistakes.
Machine Learning Creates Efficient Employees
Large warehouses require a significant number of employees in a wide variety of capacities to keep operations running smoothly. As anyone who has controlled a business knows, training employees can be one of the most time and resource-consuming aspects of business operations.
This is especially true when a business has many employees and a high turnover rate, something common among large logistics firms.
In response, many logistic companies have taken to machine learning for many of the more mundane and straightforward aspects, a strategy that has freed up managers and supervisors, allowing them to dedicate their time to items of more importance.
Once an automated learning system is installed, it requires very little upkeep, and aside from the initial cost, it is significantly cost-effective.
Processes of Robotics And The Automation In Supply Chain
Logistics have always required plenty of human resources to get different jobs done. These days, however, workers have many electric and motor-powered tools to help them do their jobs faster, safer, and with a much more significant amount of ease. This trend will only continue as more and more operations are left up to the responsibility of different robotics.
One of the fields where that has been seen the most is the loading and unloading of trucks, ships, planes, and trains. There was a time when men, assisted by pulleys and cranes, performed all the loading and unloading work, which took up a fair amount of time.
Now, containers are often unloaded automatically once a truck, ship, or train pulls into the designated loading/unloading bay. In some cases, these operations may still require the use of an operator, but the total amount of human resources required has been significantly reduced.
Another significant advancement in the area of automation has been driverless vehicles. While most significant people are accustomed to the concept of driverless vehicles through Tesla and their plans at producing driverless vehicles, some may be surprised to find out that logistics companies have been using driverless vehicles for some time.
Like other automation innovations, these driverless vehicles help move stock from one area to another safely and controlled.
Driverless vehicles are not limited to trucks and forklifts, and there is much talk about delivery drones making an appearance soon. Amazon has spearheaded this idea, and although it has yet to come to fruition, we can expect it to be only a few years away.
4 Limitations Of Automation in Supply Chain
While automation in supply chain can be beneficial, most (if not all) companies are still skeptical of its power. There’s still a need for a human workforce behind the processes done in the supply chain, meaning that there are limitations to something like automation in supply chain. You heard right. Limitations.
The truth is, like any new technology, automation has to be implemented in small doses rather than have brutal force it’s away into an industry. In supply chains, automation will have to be implemented slowly for management to see what’s working and what needs to be improved.
Now, while we won’t get into the “robots will take over jobs” perspective, we’ll focus more on how automation in supply chain will affect supply chains in other critical ways:
Focuses On Tasks That Don’t Take Much Skill
First, it’s important to note that automation won’t automate EVERYTHING in the supply chain. Automation in supply chain is more tailored to menial tasks – ones that don’t take much skill. While robots will navigate the warehouse and get the right products, their abilities still lack in different areas. For example, if someone needs something from upstairs, a robot might not get up and down the stairs. Instead, a human employee will be needed to do that particular task.
So, without the skill that can only be expected in human employees, they won’t lose jobs due to robots.
Not Competitive Enough
Supply chains understand that there is competition everywhere in the industry. While humans share this enthusiasm, robots won’t.
Competition is generated by real-time scenarios (i.e., sales, product distribution, etc.), motivating people to act. Robots, on the other hand, don’t possess these feelings. That means that they won’t be able to manage to get things done to meet the competition.
Won’t Create Relationships
Relationships are essential to making a supply chain run well. From management-employee interactions to company-client ones, creating meaningful relationships are key.
But with robots, they’re unable to cultivate relationships with employees, management, or clients. They also won’t be able to make any judgment calls based on influential factors or consumers.
Also, robots aren’t able to understand the things that happen in the Human Resources department. For example, if an employee requests a sick day, a human HR personnel will be empathetic to their needs and not a robot. It shows that interpersonal issues aren’t robots’ strong points yet, meaning that there’s still a need for a human touch.
If competition and human touch aren’t enough to hinder companies from implementing automation 100% already, costs might. Like anything else automation in supply chain takes money, which can slow adoption rates. Just check out these statistics:
- According to Robots.com, robot arms, especially those with welding packages, tend to cost between $28,000 and $40,000.
- Even if you buy refurbished robotics – about 50% cheaper than newer models – they still take shipping and handling costs.
- According to Arnold Machine, Inc., the costs of automation consist of the following:
- Paying up-front for hardware and software, including installation
- Training and wages for operators
- Ongoing maintenance
- Planned or unplanned stoppages from part changeouts to accommodate automated efforts
As a result, companies will be concerned about return on investment (ROI) should they consider implementing automation in supply chain. If automation in supply chain is too pricey for them, then they won’t implement it at all. Or, in some cases, companies will look to refurbished equipment.
Automation in supply chain will remain to play an integral role in the development of logistic processes throughout the world. Not only are the possibilities seem limitless, but most automation can be installed and implemented in a short amount of time, and the benefits are almost instant.
However, these innovations will require a new workforce of technicians and operators who understand these pieces of equipment and know how to use, fix, and maintain them.
Ultimately, automation in supply chain will take some getting used to. Despite its limitations, automation can still change the way industries like supply chains do things from start to finish. As more technological advances occur, automation will be improved to where there will be a healthy skepticism, along with actual usage that doesn’t interfere with human work.
Must Read: TOP 5 GREAT ADVANTAGES OF CONVERSATIONAL AI
Author Bio: Elizabeth Hines is a digital marketer and content writer at Top Canadian Writers and Simple Grad. Most of her writings focus on the newest advancements in tech and marketing, where she spent many years as a professional. Elizabeth also writes for online magazines and blogs such as Best essay writing services and others in her spare time.