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The Inventory Mentor

Apr 9, 2019


How automated is your supply chain?

How Automated is Your Supply Chain?

In previous articles, we have looked at the Real Cost of Inventory and at the Internal and External Factors that affect your inventory planning and management. In this article, we’ll look at Artificial Intelligence, IOT, and Machine Learning to see how this technology is impacting companies today by reducing costs, streamlining efficiencies, and even saving lives.

Through Machine Learning, we can accurately predict inventory demand using historical data from past sales, discounts, and promotions.  Artificial Intelligence is used to predict consumer demand from an external point. For example, data from Facebook posts may suggest a flu outbreak in a specific region, which means pharmacies then have the data intelligence to ensure they are adequately stocked with flu medication.

The use of robotics in manufacturing, distribution, and retail have increased tenfold over the past few years. Manufacturing companies are in highly competitive industries and have to continuously look at ways to maximize efficiencies, and robots provide that increased efficiency. This is an important tool that can boost employees’ productivity so that they can be more effective in more critical areas of the business. A great example of this is seen at Walmart retail stores, where robots are set to roam the aisles during shopping hours checking stock levels, correct labelling, and correct pricing and to report out of stock items so employees can take action.

AI can go one step further and automatically place orders with suppliers. In addition to factoring in order quantities and average shipping time, AI can also look at external factors that may affect the delivery of products such as road construction or severe weather conditions.

Amazon is a great example of warehouse automation using robots. With fulfilment centers as large as 1.25 million square feet, it became difficult and physically challenging for employees to pick items. Amazon built an array of robots to do the stock picking function for them. When an order is placed online, it is assigned to a robot that finds the rack that the item is on and brings the entire rack to the packaging station where a store clerk removes the item and the robot returns the rack to storage.

An enhanced version of the Amazon robot is the newly developed Skypod from Exotec Solutions which travels at 10 MPH and can carry up to 66 pounds of product. This robot climbs the racks and can pick the exact item at a pick rate of 400 items per hour.

Access and distribution of medical products such as blood and vaccines in developing countries is a real challenge, and this problem is being addressed with the use of Zipline drones that can carry up to a 1.75kg load. The box containing the products has a small parachute attached, and the drone drops the box containing lifesaving medical products at the exact location required. Creating better health outcomes across the globe could be an enormous benefit of AI in action.

Aside from using AI for factory picking, packing, and distribution, businesses are using AI and IoT (Internet of Things) to assist with the detection of equipment failure. Sensors are connected to the machines to monitor their performance and are able to detect potential maintenance issues before they become a problem. Technicians are notified and can proactively assess and repair the machine before massive hours of downtime are incurred.

Embracing innovation

Companies with innovative leaders who are embracing these technologies will be way ahead of their competitors that are stuck in the ’90s. If you have not yet designed an IoT strategy, it’s wise to do so soon or run the risk of being left behind.

AI and IoT sensors and devices all need to connect to platforms – if you are running legacy systems that do not provide an integrated system, you should look at updating those first and then take the next leap to digitalization and automation.  Don’t wait – the future is now.