4 Supply Chain Disruptive Technologies

Disruptive Technologies

Every year Inbound Logistics survey their readers and publish a 3PL perspectives market research report based on the findings. One of this year’s fascinating findings were the opinions shared on what 3PL companies consider to be supply chain disruptive technologies.

  • Internet of Things: 42%
  • Driverless Vehicles: 41%
  • Drones: 25%
  • 3D Printing: 24%
  • RFID: 24%
  • Embedded Sensors: 23%
  • Artificial Intelligence: 21%
  • Wearable Technology: 20%
  • Virtual Reality: 7%

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) connects the previously unconnected. Sensors that can receive, monitor and transmit can be placed on or in virtually any physical object. This has the potential to completely change the way a supply chain operates, from manufacturing to in-transit visibility.Every person, process, transport and goods can be monitored in real-time end to end through the chain.

Cisco and DHL collaborated on a report titled the “Internet of Things in Logistics” Highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to find out more about IoT stay ahead of the curve.

Driverless Vehicles

Google’s  driverless vehicles have been on the road for a while now but Daimler has recently announced an autonomous truck licensed to drive on  public roads. This summer the Freightliner Inspiration Truck was debuted at the Hoover Dam in Nevada.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdSRUG4KTPA[/embedyt]

Is this another nail in the coffin for the demise of the long haul trucker I wonder? It would be interesting to see what the ATA’s take is on this.


I did a piece on the use of drones for last mile delivery  last week. Amazon are investing heavily in the use of the technology but there are still plenty of challenges ahead.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr-xBtVU4lg[/embedyt]

As this video shows – delivering a parcel in suburban America is relatively simple compared to delivery in the Australian outback. (There were no animals injured in the filming of this video)

3D Printing

I also did a short piece on 3D printing in the same article.

According to Ed Morris of NAMII

“In terms of impact on inventory and logistics,” he says, “you can print on demand”. Meaning you don’t have to have the finished product stacked on shelves or stacked in warehouses anymore. “Whenever you need a product,” he explains, “You just make it. And that collapses the supply chain down to its simplest parts, adding new efficiencies to the system.”


“IoT will bring all of this together in the following way: By putting a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip in a pallet, for example, and a combined integrated device in the shipment vehicle, data is transferred into the cloud, and the devices can identify the pallet and not only share its position using GPS coordinates, but also bring in other data like weather conditions, traffic conditions, and driver-specific data (i.e., driving pattern, average speed).”

Cited from “How the Internet of Things Impacts Supply Chains” in Inbound Logistics.

Artificial Intelligence

Toyota have just announced a $50 million investment  over the next 5 years in two joint research centers at Stanford and MIT. Both have the remit to accelerate the study of artificial intelligence for application on robotics and intelligent vehicles.

So What Does All This Mean?

Each of the supply chain disruptive technologies shared by 3PL companies can be compiled into four broad categories:

  • The Internet of Things. The networked connectivity of physical objects in the supply chain
  • Autonomous delivery vehicles
  • Last mile drone delivery
  • 3D printing. Manufacturing locally on demand

As the Inbound Logistics article cites “Disruptive technologies have the potential to rapidly redefine supply chain rules of engagement. But they’re not always a sure thing.”

The Internet itself has significantly impacted our lives. However we didn’t go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning in  a scene from “Minority Report”  We got here through iterative, albeit exponential, leaps in technology. Each preceding technology phase conditioned and prepared us for the next.

That’s how it will be with the Internet of Things and the other supply chain disruptive technologies. As logistics professionals we have to stay ahead of the curve, assimilate each new technology, and extract maximum value from it for both our clients and our own organizations. 10 years from now we will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Call Ted at (505) 908-1911 to find out how
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