Technology and logistics have always gone hand in hand, so it is no surprise that corporations have been benefiting in some form from real-time warehouse management systems since the 1970s. However, the speed of technological change has quickened significantly since the advent of the Internet, as it reduced the expense and complexity of computerized inventory managements and finally made it viable to apply the tech in real-world situations. A few technological advances have made their mark since.
Telematics and GPS
Bluetooth technology has increased accountability and quality control by tracking every stage of the logistics journey, from the warehouse to point of consumption. Bluetooth devices are now used to relay real-time information about the exact location and condition of items and goods that are transported huge distances. This not only serves up useful information for the consumer but also helps logistics enterprises manage their own fleet of vehicles more effectively.
GPS-based fleet management systems have been used for some time but the sheer scale and level of functionality has changed for the better during the last decade, due to the digital revolution. For example, it is now possible to get geofence alerts when a driver nears its destination or veers out of a particular services area, optimize routes using the latest traffic information and get real-time reports on fuel levels.
Telematics and the long distance transmission of information also allow logistics companies to get a better overview of vehicle maintenance. Alerts for problems with an engine can be used to administer preventive repairs, avoid breakdowns and ensure trucks are always on the road rather than being serviced. Enterprises can also access updated driver information automatically, and even track speeding and excessive idling to drive cost savings and improve safety.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is an extension of telematics. The growing mass of connected devices and sensors is already having a huge impact further up the supply chain. Smart machines are optimizing the ordering, manufacturing and warehousing phases of logistics with in-depth insights that deliver real value, which increases the responsiveness and productivity of the entire division. The latest tech trends include active and passive RFID tags, which deliver regular updates and relevant information about products they are attached to. All of this data can be accessed via a mobile app or other connected device. This shows how tech has not just made improvements in isolation, as the cumulative impact of tech enhancements across the chain has been considerable.
Total spend on connected logistics solutions is set to soar to $20 billion by the end of the decade, so enterprises must continue to integrate tech into their processes to keep pace with competitors who have embraced digital transformation and are enjoying the fruits of new tech installations. Evangelos Marinakis and his shipping corporation, Capital Maritime & Trading Corp, are using cutting edge IT systems and integrated software to manage large fleets effectively in an increasingly competitive marine industry.
While tech has already had a huge impact on logistics, more disruptive forces could change the industry entirely once again during the next 20 years. Robotic process automation and autonomous vehicles are likely to address driver storages and reduce the need for manual labor, while improving efficiencies in the delivery process. UAVs and drones are very much a part of this new ethos, as they will be able to solve the challenges associated with last-minute delivery by bypassing the traditional transportation system entirely.
3D printing may also change the production, packaging, inventory and warehousing aspect of logistics, as there would be less need for vast levels of stock to be kept on site, while the pattern of goods transportation in terms of both flow and volume will also change. A recent forecast suggests the 3D printing market could be worth almost $490 billion by 2024. The process will empower enterprises to produce complex products at scale, and while it cannot replace traditional manufacturing entirely, it will lead to a tighter integration between logistics and manufacturing.
In terms of on-site logistics, blockchain technology could have the biggest impact in the near future. Blockchain is defined as “an incorruptible digital ledge of economic transaction that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually anything of value” by Blockchain Revolution authors Don and Alex Tapscott. This tech will eliminate the problems supply chain managers face every day. It would reduce errors associated with paper-based documentation and improve efficiency, reduce fraud and enhance security, and eliminate bottlenecks caused by third-party certifications.
Technology will continue to shape the logistics industry in the coming years. IoT, cloud computing and other cutting-edge tech are at the core of nearly every logistics process, and enterprises will need to continue to innovate and integrate tech to meet the growing needs and demands of clients and consumers in both the B2B and B2C sectors.