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.
Topics: Industry 4.0
In 1963 the National Council of Physical Distribution Management was created to help give visibility to the emerging field of supply chain management. In the following decades, records keeping and other traditionally manual processes would become the province of newly-emerging computer technology, leading to significant changes in the industry. In the ‘80s, the council changed its name to the Council of Logistics Management to reflect the industry’s increasingly nuanced view of the complex process of sourcing raw materials for production and distributing finished products to customers. Supply chain management as a field went through plenty of change during that span, including the continued rise of computers as a tool, just as it's going through big changes now with the advent of Industry 4.0. Below, you’ll find our predictions for what might change about supply chain management in the coming year.
Let’s say you have to schedule a medium-sized meeting with some of your coworkers. If you’re a traditionalist who likes to do this kind of scheduling by hand, you’ll first need to brainstorm a list of which people (i.e. which creative and organizational resources) will need to be in attendance. Then, you’ll have to pick a time that works for you, and check with each person on the list to see if that time also works with their schedules. In the extremely likely event that the time does not work for everyone, you’ll need a master list of everyone’s availabilities so that you can find a time slot that works for everyone. Or, if not everyone, then at least the largest possible number of vital attendees.
As the era of Industry 4.0 continues to ramp up, new corners throughout the world of industry will continue to see rapid growth and changes—for which they may or may not be prepared! Certainly, the general trend of increasing cyber-physical systems, big data and analytics integration, autonomous machine decision-making, and increased product customization will be apparent to some degree in every Industry 4.0-enabled factory, but the particulars of the Fourth Industry Revolution’s effect will vary widely from industry to industry based on products, product lifecycles, and customer expectations. This means that the picture of Industry 4.0 readiness will look very different in different fields. In furniture manufacturing, for instance, production planners and IT staff may encounter a very different set of challenges than, say, automotive manufacturers.