The fourth industrial revolution – often called Industry 4.0 – impacts just about everything in the supply chain today. The technology evolution has forever changed e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retail, transportation and logistics. As customers (be they businesses or consumers) become more mobile and demand personalised, rapid services, businesses in the Asia-Pacific Region face a choice: embrace what Industry 4.0 offers, or risk not meeting customer needs.
At its core, Industry 4.0 is about the transformation of the supply chain. And with technology evolving at such a rapid pace, companies are increasingly partnering with some of the brightest minds – from integrators, to universities and incubators – to create an open innovation model, building upon already-proven technologies.
But with so much being said about technology advances in the supply chain today, it can become a bit overwhelming. So, what does industry 4.0 mean for your business?
The Industrial Internet of Things (IoT)
Thanks to technology advances and the rise of industrial IoT, there will soon be billions of new devices and endpoints connected to form complex business solutions that run without human interaction or awareness. Ten years ago, the focus for IoT was centred on devices getting connected to software on the cloud platform. It was one-dimensional connectivity. A few years later the focus shifted to the physical and digital loop. Now, we’re seeing all devices become intelligent and autonomous. Field devices, such as mobile computers, are today able to communicate and interact with one another, using more centralised controllers as necessary, to instantaneously update organisations on the location, status and safety of their mobile workers (like deliver drivers).
In situations where business mobility involves rugged devices and smartphones, device management is straightforward. Standards exist and the variability between different devices and operating systems can be managed. However, with the rise of industrial IoT, Australian supply chain businesses are deploying thousandsof diverse devices and endpoints. They will connect over new types of networks and use different messaging protocols. Adding further complication, is the fact that often data will never reach a human, rather the connections will mainly be between machine to machine. Device management software will be critical in this new world where “things” talk to other “things” on an ongoing basis.
Using big data to eliminate downtime
Every minute of downtime counts — every missed goal, every unhappy customer, every bottleneck, every employee left standing with nothing to do. They all lead to the same thing: the erosion of a distribution centres (DCs) ability to move product out the door on time. To address these issues, businesses should consider adopting a connected DC model.
The backbone of a connected DC is proactive, predicted-maintenance automation supported by big data. Assets are connected via machine-level sensors and control systems, capturing data, and moving it into cloud-based analytics technology. This data creates a forecast of what might happen and when. Through sophisticated data analytics, DC managers not only increase runtime, they predict equipment
malfunctions and avoid problems altogether. A connected DC offers actionable information to DC managers, which leads to the prevention of bottlenecks and uncovers root causes about why they occur.
Technology advances also mean that DCs can today monitor motor vibrations and temperature that indicate potential equipment failure — even considering often overlooked factors such as ambient conditions. This data is allowing DC managers to transition to predictive maintenance plans that not only limit occurrences of unplanned downtime, but also significantly reduce labour and spare parts costs.
Using robotics to automate complex tasks
Advancements in robotic technologies are making their way into dynamic order fulfillment environments, where they’re playing an ever-expanding role in automating complex tasks. From unloading shipping containers and picking packets to robotic singulation, palletising and de-palletising, these high-performance solutions deliver optimum productivity and accuracy rates.
And by leveraging the power of the Industrial IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, today’s robotic solutions continually improve and adapt to changing conditions. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMR) are two mobile robotics solutions that have also improved significantly and experienced wider adoption in Australian DCs over recent years. AGVs reduce the labour requirements related to storage, retrieval and other associated picking-related tasks. AMRs automate goods to-operator picking, particularly in remote areas of a facility. Both offer measurable efficiency improvements and reduced labour costs.
Using the cloud to drive collaboration
Cloud software infrastructure will be critical to the supply chain sector going forward, enabling DCs and 3PLs to consolidate data from inventory, order management, deliveries and supply chain systems, into one single version of the truth. Cloud software opens critical supply chain processes from legacy systems housed in data centres. It means that solutions and the data that they house can be accessed, run and updated from virtually anywhere with an internet connection.
One of the main advantages for a DC is that cloud computing delivers greater connectivity, allowing for collaboration between workers. Employees across the organisation can access files and project updates from wherever they are: be it scanning items on the DC floor, a manager overseeing workflow performance from a centralised office, an employee working at home or an executive in the boardroom. No matter what location, or geography the worker may be based within, important data and the ability to influence businesses decisions can be made anywhere, at any time.
Adopt Industry 4.0 for business advantage
Today's supply chain is largely made up of a collection of individual actions - from manufacturing, to marketing, to distribution - that combine to get a product into the hands of a customer. Through adopting Industry 4.0 strategies, supply chains will be better automated, interconnected and transparent. Bringing suppliers of raw materials, manufacturers, and the transporters of finished goods closer together, will serve to better meet the needs of customers and deliver a competitive business advantage.