Supply chains are an essential part of today’s globalized infrastructure. With materials sourced in one country, assembled in another country, and then sold in a completely different country, supply chains are an important component for consumers to enjoy many different types of goods.
Although supply chains have helped us enter a new world where goods can be transported around the world, they have also made us dependent on the proper functioning of supply chains. So when supply chains are interrupted or encounter problems, the domino effect can have a significant negative impact.
Given the severe effects that can result from supply chain complications, it is important to be aware of the issues that can potentially arise and where supply chains are vulnerable. Although people do their best to identify vulnerable areas in supply chains, there may be areas that are overlooked.
Fortunately, technological innovations are helping identify vulnerabilities in supply chains, giving organizations a chance to address them before problems arise. One of the most important technological resources used to detect supply chain vulnerabilities is AI technology, which has predictive capabilities that can be more effective than the human mind in some cases.
Better understanding how AI technology can help identify supply chain vulnerability can give a clearer picture of how supply chains work, and allow us to live in a world in which all goods we desire are only a click away.
Links in the supply chain
To understand how AI can help identify supply chain vulnerabilities, it is important to understand supply chains themselves. Having a general understanding of each link in the supply chain can help develop a more accurate idea of how supply chains work.
- Materials: Supply chains start with material processors. These people collect and prepare the materials to be transformed into products.
- Manufacturing: Manufacturers receive materials from Material Processors which they then use to create different products.
- Sellers: Sellers are those who specialize in moving products along the supply chain. Although some vendors are vendor-only, some manufacturers also act as vendors, releasing their products to others in the supply chain.
- Warehouses and Storage: Once sellers sell their products, these products must be stored somewhere. Given the usually large quantity of products, goods are usually stored in warehouses until they are moved further along the supply chain.
- Transportation: To leave the warehouses, the goods must be transported. Transport companies are generally responsible for transporting products to distribution centers.
- Distribution: To be distributed, goods move along the supply chain to distribution centers. From there, distribution centers usually route their products to retailers or wholesalers.
- Detail: The last stop in the supply chain is retail. At this point, consumers can purchase products from a physical store or online.
Emerging Trends in Engineering in Manufacturing
Manufacturers are one of the most vital parts of any supply chain. At this point in the chain, manufacturers convert raw materials – such as wood, steel or plastic – into specific products ready for purchase and enjoyment by consumers.
Since manufacturing is an important aspect of any supply chain, it is an area where mitigating risks that could potentially cause problems is of the utmost importance. With exciting new innovations, manufacturers are taking advantage of some emerging engineering trends to become more efficient and reduce the number of issues and inconsistencies in their product manufacturing process.
Understanding Industry 4.0
The concept of Industry 4.0 revolves around the increasingly digitized manufacturing process in today’s changing world. This change in the industry is characterized by the use of technologies such as 3D printing, IoT devices, robotics and AI. Understanding the impact of these technologies on the manufacturing industry can lead to a better understanding of supply chains and how they work.
- 3D printing: 3D printing allows manufacturers to create specific shapes from raw materials in seconds. In addition to increased efficiency, 3D printing ensures that the products created will be consistent no matter how many times a certain product is created.
- IoT devices: IoT (Internet of Things) devices help manufacturers collect data on the manufacturing process. Although the collected data is often used to increase the efficiency of the manufacturing process, the data can also be useful to designers.
- Robotics: Robotics can help manufacturers automate tasks that would typically be performed by a human. Robotics can increase efficiency, reduce labor and ensure consistency in the manufacturing process.
- AI: Like robotics, AI (artificial intelligence) has the power to automate tasks that would otherwise be performed by a human. Unlike robotics, AI technology can use the data it has collected to make quick decisions in different situations. In this way, AI can automate not only physical work tasks, but also problem solving.
The impact of AI on supply chains
As one can imagine, a disruption in the supply chain can cause a domino effect that ends up affecting large numbers of people and industries. As such, it makes sense that supply chain players are willing to implement new technologies to mitigate the risk of disruptions.
The use of AI technology is quickly becoming a staple in the various industries that make up supply chains. Indeed, technology has the power to help these industries avoid unnecessary complications that could potentially cost many different organizations money.
As has been demonstrated, AI has the power to increase manufacturing efficiency and automate problem solving in a number of manufacturing scenarios. However, the ability of AI to advance practices in supply chains does not stop there.
AI technologies have predictive capabilities and can often foresee trends that humans may overlook. Thus, actors in supply chains can use the information generated by AI technology to predict trends and get a rough idea of the products that will flow through the supply chain.
Whereas without AI technology, materials processors and manufacturers may be caught off guard by trends – and therefore not have the resources to meet demands – with AI, these links in the chain supply can be better prepared for any trend that arises.
The Changing Face of Supply Chains
As supply chains become increasingly digitized, AI technology is beginning to play a bigger role in the process. Technology capabilities such as increasing efficiency, automating problem resolution and trend forecasting are helping supply chains run smoother and fix vulnerabilities in their operations faster .
As such, it is likely that AI technology will continue to become a staple in supply chain operations and eventually become synonymous with process.