There’s been a big push towards lean manufacturing and logistics in the past few years, with manufacturers doing everything in their power to reduce inventory levels and rely less on their buffer stock. Because there’s a considerable element of risk involved in a truly lean supply chain, virtually all supply chains stop short of completely lean workflows. The one significant exception? The newspaper industry. While newspapers aren’t usually thought of as manufacturers in the traditional sense, they do produce a product in a systematic way in order to be shipped to end-users—with the crucial difference that anything resembling a buffer stock or inventory is rendered useless by the impossibly short lead times, as papers become obsolete just hours after they’re distributed.
A few years ago, three days was considered a reasonably quick shipping turnaround. Today, for many consumers three days is considered glacial, two days is considered standard, and only shipping times shorter than one day really count as fast. These changing expectations have put numerous businesses, from manufacturers to logistics providers, in a position to either optimize their transport processes for greater efficiency or cede transportation management as a competitive advantage. The latter is obviously not something that any business really wants, but the former can be a tall order.
Let’s say you’re trying to become a healthier person. Seems simple enough, right? You just need to choose healthier foods and exercise a few times a week—it’s just a matter of making a new weekly schedule that includes time set aside for exercise and for cooking a few health-conscience meals. Right? Well, maybe not. When you set down to actually create this new schedule, you realize that you’re not sure how much exercise you’re getting currently or how many calories you’re burning during that exercise. As a result, you determine that you need to get a Fitbit to track to your current exercise levels. By the same token, you find that you need a food scale to help you measure out portions for your new recipes, and you need to do a lot of advanced research on the actual calorie counts and other nutritional information for various foods.
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.
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.
When you play chess, you’re supposed to think several moves ahead. This means that whenever you move one of your pieces, you should be anticipating the possible moves that your opponent will make in response, and what you’ll do in response to your opponent’s next moves. Since at each stage there are multiple possibilities, the possible scenarios you need to keep in your head at any given time begin to multiply pretty quickly. And yet, for each scenario it’s imperative to be able to look at the entire board in your mind and consider all of the hazards and opportunities that present themselves. In this way, it’s a little bit like logistics planning.
If you sat down to compare the experience of taking a cross country road trip now vs. thirty years ago, what might come to mind? Probably, your first thought would be about how the rise of GPS systems (and, relatedly, smartphones) had made navigation much easier. Gone are the days when drivers need to purchase physical maps and chart their courses by hand. You might also think about the ways in which modern cars are better suited to this kind of journey, often featuring built-in GPS systems, Bluetooth hookups for playing music or receiving navigational instructions from your iPhone, and improved safety features like alerts if you're drifting out of your lane. All of this is undoubtedly true, but do all of these convenience-adding features also make traveling cheaper?
Over the course of human history, many of our most critical technological advances have been put to use in helping people and goods get from Point A to Point B more effectively. Take air travel, for instance: only a few years ago, most travelers needed travel agents in order to cut through the complexity involved in bundling together connections and return flights in the most sensible manner. Cut to the modern day, and a simple Google search can give you the times, connections, and prices for your various options based on your desired travel dates and destinations. Not only that, but once you’ve booked your travel itinerary, you can check in online (rather than at the airport), receive your boarding passes via e-mail, and receive alerts about your flight on your phone. All of sudden, life as a traveler is about connectivity and convenient digital workflows.
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.
Let’s say your manufacturing outfit is looking to hire a new employee, and you’re tasked with creating the job listing. What are you likely to ask for in your potential new hires? Depending on what type of IT environment your business runs on, you might require that they be familiar with a certain software or suite of software products, so that they can easily assimilate into your existing workflows. You might also ask for references from previous employers, so that you can be sure that they don’t present any obvious red flags. Going a little bit deeper, you might make a point of searching for employees who exhibit the potential to learn and grow, i.e. people who can potentially take on more responsibility as they go forward, helping your business to grow and adapt over time.