Sense + Think + Act = The Digital Supply Chain

Picture2I think about it like this. The digital supply chain will be a supply chain that adapts. One that’s more agile and less brittle. One that’s self‐configuring and self‐optimizing. And one that’s adaptive and fault tolerant.

How will this finally come about? The technology we’re rolling out today will transform manufacturing and the supply chain with the ability to sense, think and act on real-time information about everything from production and equipment data, market variability, and demand. The Industrial Internet of Things, “Big Data”, the automation of processes with robots, 3D printing, cloud-based sharing and artificial intelligence will combine to break manufacturers free from the constraints of the “planned supply chain.”

It will happen thanks to the advancement of automation of both physical and cognitive tasks – manifested in collaborative robots. Until now the supply chain relied heavily on planning, planning, and more planning. The input into those planning models was always behind and as a result, the supply chain was constantly reacting to variability. Which as we all know is the reality in which we live. It’s like trying to tell someone how to get from Penn Station in Manhattan to the Empire State Building. Sure, you can tell them how many blocks and when to turn right or left and what landmarks they might look for. But your instructions aren’t likely to include the detour required thanks to a water main break or the taxi that’s going to choose to run the red light at 33rd and 6th. In other words, you can tell them how to plan to get there, but they will have to navigate the route based on what’s happening that day, that minute.

Robots will automate more of the factory using rules for known procedures and cognitive computing to adapt to physical changes in the environment. They will use computation at vast scales, deep learning and other forms of AI, and the cloud to process additional data and to share learning with robots in other operations. Ultimately, the information they glean will be used to configure – and re-configure – the supply chain in real-time and build supply chains that are able to respond accordingly.

The vision of the digital supply chain is exciting, no doubt. What’s more exciting to me, though, is the outcome and results of that vision and what the technology and innovation that underlie the digital supply chain will do for manufacturers.

Originally published on Beet Fusion.