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During the latter half of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution began. As a result of this drastic change in operations, steam-powered equipment was used in place of human or animal power in order to complete previously labor-intensive tasks.
During the second industrial revolution, the world began to embrace the use of other fuels and energy sources, such as gas and electricity. Having created systems that require less human involvement at this stage, we were able to automate most operations.
The third industrial revolution was characterized by the widespread use of computers. The use of computers enabled manufacturers to automate their production processes even further, thus increasing their efficiency.
Fast forward to today, and we are currently experiencing the fourth industrial revolution. This period of industrial change is also known as Industry 4.0. The shifts happening in this industrial revolution have profound implications for supply chains. As such, supply chain managers need to develop strategies now to ensure that they fully prepare for the complete shift to Industry 4.0.
What follows is a list of some of the best available technology and processes which must be incorporated into supply chains, if they wish to remain competitive in the future.
Digital twins, when paired with control towers, allow supply chain professionals to run in-depth simulations.
In doing so, these companies are able to determine whether their processes are working to the best of their ability. Additionally, carrying out these simulations is a useful tool for businesses to prepare for potential issues that could adversely affect their supply chain.
The ability to understand all aspects of a supply chain and to prevent problems before they arise will be a very valuable asset in the future. In fact, with how slim margins could be due to inflation and a host of other issues, it’s imperative that companies respond proactively to potential problems rather than retroactively.
Previously, the ability for a computer to “learn” was more of a science fiction premise than a conceivable reality. With the incredible capabilities technology now affords us, however, machine learning is a very real and very necessary component of supply chain operations.
Machine learning technology has been one of the primary drivers for factories to become autonomous, allowing them to function at the highest level of efficiency possible. These machine learning programs can consolidate past information in order to make decisions about the future. This alone leads to more informed and more effective steps being taken in the production process.
Being able to access information and make decisions from anywhere, at any time is a critical piece of the puzzle. For this reason, incorporating cloud technology for supply chains is an absolute necessity.
While having information stored in-house seems like a secure and viable solution, it can create serious visibility issues. Lack of visibility across certain parts of a supply chain could potentially carry catastrophic results. Everything from small data silos and shipping delays to larger issues such as total inoperability.
Plus, the cybersecurity features associated with cloud technology have improved markedly over the years, but will need to continue to do so in order to keep up with the other changes the experts expect to see.
The cybersecurity concept is explored in more detail in the following section.
As supply chain technology has improved, so has the skill of those with technological prowess and malicious intent. It seems like as soon as a cybersecurity company closes a loophole in a system, hackers find another way around it.
There’s no doubt about it: maintaining security and privacy through the fourth industrial revolution is a monumental task. With all of the interconnectedness and the potential for cybersecurity attacks at any point throughout the supply chain, even those with robust security systems will still have their hands full.
This is especially true in the manufacturing sector, where hacks and security breaches have become an almost regular occurrence. The importance of investing in cybersecurity measures and staff security training can not be overstated any longer.
Industry 4.0 will be largely dependent on the use of very sophisticated robots to handle processes within factories. At present, the use of more advanced robotics can be cost prohibitive for many businesses. That being said, as we march forward into the future, the cost of producing these robots is likely to decline. As these tools become more readily available, we will notice the ushering in an of era of increased automation and artificial intelligence.
Repetitive movements are some of the most intuitive places where advanced robotics can be implemented throughout the supply chain. This includes more remedial tasks of labor intensive tasks such as loading and unloading of trucks.
This will likely present a change in job responsibilities for the human workers who previously filled these manual labor roles. Instead, workers will need to be retrained in how to monitor and correct issues that robotic systems may encounter. In all likelihood, this means that continuing education programs will be a big component of all future supply chain operations.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in the supply chain, but it’s also a time of uncertainty and change. Industry 4.0 is going to happen, whether we are ready for it or not.
The best thing that supply chain managers can do to prepare is to consult the items listed above, first. Comparing against all of these crucial areas will help ensure your systems are ready for any major shifts.