Digital supply chains can help manufacturing businesses reduce costs and disruptions in a variety of ways. They make it possible to predict potential breakdowns and bottlenecks far enough in advance that you can take steps to address them, just as they help you to boost operational efficiency through smarter sourcing, inventory management, and capacity management. More than that, going digital makes it easier for your business to integrate with other highly-digitized operations, meaning that especially sophisticated supply chain partners (whether they’re suppliers or logistics providers) will be more excited to partner with your business.
How many of you reading this remember the skepticism that came with the release of Apple’s first iPad? It may seem strange now, given how ubiquitous these pieces of technology have proven to be, but there were plenty of detractors of this early tablet: was it just a large iPhone that couldn’t make phone calls? Or a tiny MacBook without a keyboard? What was the point, and who would gain any real value from such a thing? Nowadays, those objections seem misguided. Why? Because we’ve seen the ways in which iPads and similar tablets have transformed numerous processes across various industries, starting with Apple’s own stores: instead of cash registers at the ends of individual checkout lines, Apple sales and support staff use iPads not just to ring up completed transactions, but to check in customers for their appointments and gather additional data about their needs or issues.
Supply chain management can often be a stressful task, sure, but so can planning a successful potluck. You often don’t know in advance who’s going to bring what dish to your event, which means that any meal-planning you do on your end is essentially guesswork. Though it’s not likely, you could end up with a party where everyone independently decided to bring potato salad, and no one brought any main dishes or desserts. Luckily, in the 21st century, there’s an app for that: party planners can let attendees specify what they plan to bring in advance, and that information can be displayed in real-time for other attendees who are still deciding. In this way, party planners reduce the likelihood of too many repeat items, while putting themselves in a position to fill in any gaps that may arise.
By now, most of you know that Industry 4.0 revolves largely around the creation of cyber-physical systems. This can take many forms, from simulation-ready digital twins of your factory floor operations to advanced alert systems integrated with IIoT (industrial internet of things) devices. What some of you may still be wondering about is how, exactly, these things are going to add value. What is it about cyber-physical systems that will make life easier, or more efficient, or more profitable for modern manufacturers? When all is said and done, what will industrial operations in the Industry 4.0 era look like? Hopefully, these five statistics can shed some light on all of these questions.
Pop quiz: how many of you reading this are wearing a Fitbit right now? We’re willing to bet that at least a handful of you answered in the affirmative, maybe even a large percentage of you—and on some level that makes sense, because step-counters and other pieces of wearable technology give us insight into and control over our health in ways that simply weren’t available to previous generations. A mere couple of decades ago, most people presumed themselves healthy until they received some evidence to the contrary, whether that came in the form or new pain and discomfort or a stern talking to from a primary care physician. Now, with just a wristband and a smartphone you can monitor your sleep habits, your heart rate, and your physical activity in real time, meaning that if something changes in your health status you’ll notice early and take immediate action.
As newspapers have increasingly faced existential threats from television and internet news sources, the industry’s already-thin margins have gotten even thinner. This has led many outlets to evolve and adapt to the new digital realities by supplementing their print division with digital media, or by switching to the digital media entirely. Many others, searching for any opportunity to cut costs and develop a leaner supply chain, have been experimenting with the way their papers are delivered. This has gone wrong a lot more often than it’s gone right. One company tried to use the United States Postal Service to deliver papers when it became clear that their existing carriers couldn’t maintain profitability—to disastrous results.
At this point, if you’ve heard of digital twins, it’s likely that you’ve also heard them discussed in relation to the NASA’s Apollo 13 mission. For those of you who haven’t, the modern conception of a digital twin owes a lot to the structures that NASA put in place in case of exactly the sort of malfunctions that almost doomed the astronauts aboard Apollo 13. To wit, once John Swigert communicated to NASA that the spacecraft was experiencing an issue (in this case, an oxygen tank explosion had caused a cascade of system malfunctions), engineers and planners on earth were able to replicate the problems using a full-scale, physical model of the entire craft. Using this live, physical simulation of the systems operating in space, they were able to identify the issue and communicate a plan for repairs to the crew.
In economics and game theory, writers have traditionally used the term “widgets” to refer to objects of variable characteristics in production and, to a certain extent, transport. A widget can be of any shape, size, or make, and can have any other characteristics that suit the question that’s being posed or the point that’s being made. Since the advent of personal computing, the other definition of widget (an application or interface) has in many circles become more widespread, supplanting the original meaning.
In no particular order, the top supply chain disruptions include climate and weather events, forecasting errors, new trade regulations, oil and freight price fluctuations, machine and fleet breakdowns, and poor IT and technology integration, among others. As you peruse the list above, you might notice each of these disruptions can be put into one of two categories: fast or slow. Things like machine breakdowns and catastrophic weather can happen in the blink of an eye, and supply chain managers have to be prepared to preserve value via a backup plan. But other issues, like poor forecasts or integration issues, compound slowly over time—sometimes so slowly that it can be hard to identify the root cause of whatever difficulty your company is experiencing.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever played a game of telephone. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the game starts with a number of players sitting in a circle; one player whispers a word or phrase to the person next to them. That player, in turn, whispers the word or phrase to the next adjacent player, until the word or phrase has cycled back to the original player, who tells everyone else what the original word or phrase was. Usually, players find that the phrase has morphed into something else entirely over a series of mis-hearings and miscommunications—which is the entire point of the game.