For most of you reading this right now, it’s early spring. Maybe you’re huddled up inside avoiding cold rains, or maybe it’s just as blustery and wintry outside as it was a few weeks ago. Either way, we’re sure you won’t object if we ask you to pretend it’s summer. More specifically, it’s summer, and you have plans to meet your friends at the beach for a big, old-fashioned picnic. You’re so excited that you spend hours the night before cooking all sorts of classic picnic dishes: potato salad, spinach dip, caprese salad, etc. Unfortunately, you realize at the eleventh hour that you’ve made so much food that you can’t store it all in your fridge.
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.
Logistics 4.0: buzzword, or critical concept for the future of supply chain management? We might be a little bit biased over at flexis, but we’re pretty sure it’s the latter. As the global supply chain becomes every more complex and ever more digital, businesses are going to need a new framework for making decisions, developing shipping plans, and creating cohesion between their various IT choices. We think that Logistics 4.0 is going to provide that new framework, and we think that after you’ve had a chance to peruse some of these interesting facts, you’ll heartily agree.
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.
In 2015, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis made the bold claim that The Matrix (the 2000 science fiction film in which all humans were being held captive in an elaborate computer simulation) was not so much a science fiction film as a documentary about modern capitalism. We’ll leave aside for now any quibbles we have about the use of the word “documentary” in this context, but it’s worth thinking about how much the world has changed in the 18 years since the movie originally came out. Why? Because computer simulations have actually become a meaningful fact of life for many businesses across the world, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
So far, the story of Logistics 4.0 is largely one of untapped potential. As a critical counterpoint to Industry 4.0, Logistics 4.0 represents the promise of a highly responsive supply chain that can self-monitor and self-adapt, but so far this promise has only been met in a few select areas. Though smart pallets, smart containers, and smart ports are quickly becoming a reality in global shipping routes, most businesses aren’t in a position to take advantage of those things in a value additive way. That said, slow change is better than no change, and the face of logistics really is evolving. As we more firmly enter the Industry 4.0 era in manufacturing, shipping and freight forwarding paradigms will have to keep up by offering the same levels of integration and digitization as their industrial counterparts.
Let’s look at some statistics in order to dig deeper into the present-day realities of the shipping and freight forwarding industries.
Ford’s groundbreaking assembly line, which we normally think of as a watershed moment in the history of manufacturing, was just as important as a moment of negotiating customer expectations. In this case, Ford’s goal wasn’t so much to revolutionize the burgeoning automotive industry as it was to change the narrative around cars in the minds of his future customers. Where automobiles had previously been largely reserved for the wealthy, Ford wanted the general public to stop thinking of them as a luxury and start considering them to be an attainable goal for working class buyers. In order to create this new narrative, he needed to find a way to first make it reality. How? By making cars cheaply enough that they could be purchased (the story goes) by the very factory workers who were helping to build them.
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.
Plenty has been written on the perils and best practices that come with selecting the right technology for your business. Usually, businesses will be told to look at online reviews, to do their due-diligence on the provider to make sure that they deserve the trust that’s being placed in them, and to be conscious of what the typical pricing structures are within the relevant industry. This is all excellent advice, but it might not directly speak to the most important questions being considered by businesses. Why? Because while evaluating an IT solution is, in some ways, just like evaluating any other product, it’s also markedly different in others. Specifically, it requires businesses to think not just practically but conceptually, considering the long-term, transformative implications of a given piece of software.
Let’s say you’re trying to optimize your morning commute. Each day, you leave your house in the morning and walk to the train station, stopping by one of a few nearby coffee shops on the way to get your requisite dose of caffeine. This system works okay as it is, but because the coffee shops are sometimes crowded and the trains are sometimes late there is an overly-high level of variability in the length of time it takes to get from your front door to your office—meaning that you sometimes arrive earlier or later than you intended. To combat this variability, you download an app that gives you real-time notifications about train arrival times (so that you can adjust accordingly if a particular train is running late) and another app that approximates how crowded any given coffee shop is based on online check-ins. In this way, you can avoid the most crowded coffee shops and try to work around late trains, leading to a more stable commute time.