As we enter an increasingly digitized era in supply chain management, owing to new technologies from IoT sensors to real-time freight tracking, the hurdles that face manufacturers and logistics providers alike are becoming ever more complex: software integration are becoming increasingly difficult, longstanding information silos are suddenly becoming huge operational hurdles, and increased globalization is adding complexity to virtually ever corner of the supply stream. What waits on the other side of those challenges? A world of increased connectivity and the promise of the Industry 4.0 revolution. Anyone who’s been following the global automotive supply chain the past several years know that, now more than ever, success is often a matter of turning mission critical data into concrete business insights.In the spirit of turning data into insights, here are a few statistics that might shed some light on the current state of supply chain management.
Raise your hand if you remember what it was like navigating on road trips in the pre-smartphone, pre-GPS era. Before you set out from your house, you had to find your destination on a roadmap, and chart a course that could, if the destination was far enough afield, involve multiple intersecting highways or interstates. If you were driving alone, checking your map could be hazardous during driving, meaning that you had to memorize most of the turns, even if they were on unfamiliar roads. If you needed to fill up on gas, finding out the location of the next gas station would be a matter of waiting for signs on the highway to appear and alert you to the exit number of the next rest stop. Once you left the highway, you had to navigate by street signs until you reached your destination. If, at any point, a road you intended to use was closed, you would be back to the drawing board.
Reports of your job’s impending obsolescence have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, as Industry 4.0 systems continue to gain traction the nature of work, not just in the automotive and industrial spheres but across the entire global economy, is likely to be affected in tangible ways by the rise of connected, cyber-physical systems and the increased use of internet of things (IoT) devices. But despite what you might have heard, this doesn’t mean that people’s jobs are going to vanish at an unprecedented rate. After all, the first three industrial revolutions (steam power, electricity, and computers, respectively) helped to expand the labor force rather than contract it—why should the fourth industrial revolution be any different?
These days, when most people think of automation, one of their first thoughts is of self-driving cars. What many people don’t realize, as they picture themselves magically napping away their morning commutes, is that when it comes to autonomous vehicles there are actually six levels of autonomy. At level zero, you have a standard automobile, which requires the driver to make every decision and maneuver. At level five, the car itself makes and carries out all of the decisions without any human intervention. In between, we find cars that can maintain speed and avoid other cars on the highway, cars that can change lanes and make turns unassisted, and cars that can perform automated interventions in crisis situations like potential spin-outs.
Let’s think back for a moment to the early days of Facebook. Today, the social media giant boasts more than a billion users worldwide, but there was a time when its base was just an infinitesimal fraction of that number—a handful of early adopters scattered across American college campuses. Pretty quickly, that handful, having influenced others to join up, grew to a critical mass. People across the world felt that they had to be on Facebook because their friends were already using it, and the more users joined, the more attractive the social networking site seemed to potential users. This quickly reached a tipping point and led to the explosion of users that they’ve seen in the past few years.
Imagine you own and operate a pin factory at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. One day, you come in and announce to your workers that you’ll be implementing steam powered machinery into your production processes, completely reimagining many existing workflows in the process. How do you think your employees, especially those involved in planning out production workflows, are likely to react? Some of them might be excited or intrigued, certainly, but many others are likely to meet the news with apprehension or even distrust. After all, they were doing just fine making pins by hand all this time.
For decades, production planners in non-clocked production environments have been trying to optimize their job shop scheduling processes, and for decades the problem has continued to elude them, owing in large part to the tremendous complexity of uncovering the most efficient route for each product to take through a non-linear production environment. Luckily, new advancements in supply chain technology are constantly presenting planners with new tools and tactics they can use for gaining the maximum possible value from their production workflows. In many ways, the most significant of these advancements come in the form of the new technologies that make up the Industry 4.0 revolution. But what, exactly, is it that makes Industry 4.0 and job shop scheduling a match made in heaven?
Imagine a scenario: Your company has contracted a shipper or freight forwarder to complete a delivery of parts to one of your customers. Because of extensive data-collection during your research and development for the parts, you know that high temperatures over a prolonged period of time can increase the part’s failure rate. As a result of a shipping delay, these parts spend too much time in a container that’s not properly temperature controlled.
Pop quiz: when’s the last time, either in a personal or a professional capacity, that you made a purchase from a business that did not have a website? Sure, you may have wandered into a charming little brick and mortar store and made an impulse purchase, or maybe you did a bit of antiquing, but I’ll bet that for most major purchases in recent memory you would have been loath to place your trust in a business with no online presence. This is, of course, with good reason. A web presence allows you to read product reviews from other customers, gives you the resources to make more informed purchasing decisions, and lends legitimacy to their enterprise. Once you’ve experienced the added conveniences of a digital business, it’s unlikely you’ll be eager to go back to the old way of doing things.
When we discuss Industry 4.0, we often mention the origins of its name, i.e. the concept of the fourth industrial revolution defined by machine-to-machine communication and autonomous processes. With Logistics 4.0, on the other hand, there is typically no such history lesson involved, perhaps because we think of the new logistics paradigm as fundamentally an outgrowth of Industry 4.0. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this new era in logistics is very much its own entity—and it’s already changing the way that shippers and freight forwarders (to say nothing of their customers) do business.
This all begs the question, what are the distinct elements that define Logistics 4.0 systems? How do these elements incorporate the logic of Industry 4.0, and how do they build on the logistics paradigms of the past?