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Supply Chain transformation enhanced by AI

Abdul May 6, 2017

Rapidly evolving technology and a digitally focused world have opened the door for a new wave of automation to enter the workforce. Robots already stand side-by-side with their human counterparts on many manufacturing floors, adding efficiency, capacity (robots don’t need to sleep!) and dependability. Add in drones and self-driving vehicles and it’s no wonder many are questioning the role of humans going forward.

Supply chains, although automated to a degree, still face challenges brought about by the amount of slow, manual tasks required, and the daily management of a complex web of interdependent parts. The next generation of process efficiency gains and visibility could be on your doorstep with artificial intelligence in supply chain management, if only you’d let the robots automatically open it for you.

Robotic Process Automation

RPA works by automating the end-to-end supply chain, enabling the management of all tasks and sections in tandem. It allows you to spend less time on low value, high frequency activities like managing day-to-day processes, and provides more time to work on high value, exception-based requirements, which ultimately drives value for the entire business.

PwC estimates businesses could automate up to 45% of current work, saving $2 trillion in annual wages. “In addition to the cost and efficiency advantages, RPA can take a business to the next level of productivity optimization,” the firm says. Those ‘lights out’ factories and warehouses are becoming closer to a reality.

Four key elements need to be in place for you to take full advantage of robotic process automation in your supply chain:

  • robots for picking orders and moving them through the facility;
  • sensors to ensure product quality and stock;
  • cognitive learning systems;
  • and, artificial intelligence to turn processes into algorithms to guide the entire operation.

In addition, you’ll need strong collaboration internally and among suppliers and customers to tie all management systems back to order management and enterprise resource planning platforms.

Artificial Intelligence In Supply Chain Automation

AI is changing the traditional way in which companies are operating. Siemens in its “lights out” manufacturing plant, has automated some of its production lines to a point where they are run unsupervised for several weeks.

Siemens is also taking a step towards a larger goal of creating Industrie 4.0 or a fully self-organizing factory which will automate the entire supply chain. Here, the demand and order information would automatically get converted into work orders and be incorporated into the production process.

This would streamline manufacturing of highly customized products.

 Artificial Intelligence In Supplier Management And Customer Service

Organizations are also increasingly leveraging AI for supplier management and customer management. IPsoft’s AI platform, Amelia automates work knowledge and is able to speak to the customers in more than 20 languages. A global oil and gas company has trained Amelia to help provide prompt and more efficient ways of answering invoicing queries from its suppliers. A large US-based media services organization taught Amelia how to support first line agents in order to raise the bar for customer service.

 Artificial Intelligence In Logistics & Warehousing

Logistics function will undergo a fundamental change as artificial intelligence gets deployed to handle domestic and international movement of goods. DHL has stated that its use of autonomous fork lifts is “reaching a level of maturity” in warehouse operations. The next step would be driver less autonomous vehicles undertaking goods delivery operations.

 Artificial Intelligence In Procurement

AI is helping drive cost reduction and compliance agenda through procurement by generating real time visibility of the spend data. The spend data is automatically classified by AI software and is checked for compliance and any exceptions in real time. Singapore government is carrying out trials of using artificial intelligence to identify and prevent cases of procurement fraud.

The AI algorithm analyzes HR and finance data, procurement requests, tender approvals, workflows, non-financial data like government employee’s family details and vendor employee to identify potentially corrupt or negligent practices. AI will also take up basic procurement activities in the near future thereby helping improve the procurement productivity.

Artificial Intelligence in new product development

AI has totally overhauled the new product development reducing the time to market for new products. Instead of developing physical prototypes and testing the same, innovators are now creating 3D digital models of the product. AI facilitates interaction of the product developers in the digital space by recognizing the gestures and position of hand. For example, the act of switching on a button of a digital prototype can be accomplished by a gesture.

 AI In Demand Planning And Forecasting

Getting the demand planning right is a pain point for many companies. A leading health food company leveraged analytics with machine learning capabilities to analyze their demand variations and trends during promotions.

The outcome of this exercise was a reliable, detailed model highlighting expected results of the trade promotion for the sales and marketing department. Gains included a rapid 20 percent reduction in forecast error and a 30 percent reduction in lost sales.

 AI in Smart Logistics

The impact of data-driven and autonomous supply chains provides an opportunity for previously unimaginable levels of optimization in manufacturing, logistics, warehousing and last mile delivery that could become a reality in less than half a decade despite high set-up costs deterring early adoption in logistics.

Changing consumer behavior and the desire for personalization are behind two other top trends Batch Size One and On-demand Delivery: Set to have a big impact on logistics, on-demand delivery will enable consumers to have their purchases delivered where and when they need them by using flexible courier services.

A study by MHI and Deloitte found more than half (51%) of supply chain and logistics professionals believe robotics and automation will provide a competitive advantage. That’s up from 39% last year. While only 35% of the respondents said they’ve already adopted robotics, 74% plan to do so within the next 10 years. And that’s likely in part to keep up with key players like Amazon, who have been leading the robotics charge for the past few years.

 What is the mantra ?

These examples showcase that in today’s dynamic world, AI embedded supply chains offer a competitive advantage. AI armed with predictive analytics can analyze massive amounts of data generated by the supply chains and help organizations move to a more proactive form of supply chain management.

Thus, in this digital age where the mantra is “evolve or be disrupted”, companies are leveraging AI to reinvent themselves and scale their businesses quickly. AI is becoming a key enabler of the changes that businesses need to make and is helping them manage complexity of the constant digital change.

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