The logistics industry is in the midst of a technological revolution as it meets the challenges of rapidly changing markets by exploiting robotics, blockchain, IoT, big data, artificial intelligence and other innovations in everything from warehousing and material handling to the last-mile delivery of goods. PwC, in a report titled Shifting Patterns, states that both individuals and businesses now expect to get goods faster, more flexibly and often at low or no delivery cost.
The logistics industry is under acute and growing pressure to deliver a better service at an ever-lower cost. “It can only hope to do this by making maximum and intelligent use of technology, from data analytics to automation, to the physical Internet.” However, the lack of a digital culture and training remain big challenges for transportation and logistics (T&L) companies.
Similarly, in its recent The Blockchain in the Supply Chain Report, Business Insider Intelligence observes that the logistics industry is expected to grow at an impressive rate, reaching $15.5 trillion (Dh56.9 trillion) by 2023, up from $8.1 trillion in 2015. But it still suffers from a number of inefficiencies caused by outdated processes, a lack of transparency due to siloed, disparate systems and high costs because of slow, manual processes — apparently, more than half of logistics professionals still use pen and paper to manage the supply chain.
But the industry is warming up to new ideas such as blockchain and in 2017, a group of technology, transportation and supply chain executives formed the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) to create a forum for the development of blockchain standards and education for the freight industry. BiTA now has more than 450 members, including UPS, FedEx, SAP, Google, Cisco and Daimler. Business Insider Intelligence adds that the market for blockchain technology in supply chain management is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 49 per cent from $41 million in 2017 to $667 million in 2024.
“The shared networks made possible through blockchain have a significant opportunity to improve supply chain efficiency,” says Taarek Hinedi, Vice-President Operations, FedEx Express Middle East and Northern Africa (Mena). “It can track almost any kind of business activity — from financial transactions to patients and their medical records, while helping reduce risks, cost and time.”
He adds that FedEx is also testing autonomous vehicles that will involve a combination of big data and AI and will help address key issues such as road safety, since 90 per cent of all accidents are caused by human error.
Logistics Plus, a global provider of warehousing and supply chain solutions, observes in an analysis of key logistics trends for 2018 and beyond that warehouses too are transforming, with traditional forklifts making way for robotics and autonomous machinery that can pick products much faster, crunching delivery time to just 24- to 48-hour periods. Besides, mobile apps are being increasingly used for inventory management, barcode scanning, fleet management, shipment tracking and more.
A & A, a solutions provider for freight and warehousing, notes that artificial intelligence solutions have numerous applications in the supply chain as well, especially the warehousing segment. “This includes use of gesture recognition solutions instead of keyboards and mice in the procurement process.” In addition, wearable devices combined with cloud technology are assisting warehouse managers in fast, accurate collection of inventory data, while keeping track of manufactured, stored and distributed products. “Wearables can also monitor vital signs so health problems among warehouse workers can be prevented.”
Perhaps, someday wearables will warn us when our beloved delivery robot is about to kick the bucket.