Supply chains are a vital component of today’s globalized infrastructure. With materials coming from one country, being assembled in another country, and then sold in a different country altogether, supply chains are an important part of consumers being able to enjoy many different types of goods.
Though supply chains have helped to usher us into a new world where goods can be transported across the globe, it has also caused us to become dependent on smoothly running supply chains. As such, when supply chains are interrupted or experience problems, the domino effect can have a significantly negative impact.
Given the severe effects that can come as a result of supply chain complications, it’s important to be aware of the problems that can potentially arise and the points at which supply chains are vulnerable. Though people may try their best to pinpoint areas in supply chains that are vulnerable, there may be areas that are overlooked.
Thankfully, innovations in technology are allowing vulnerabilities in supply chains to be pinpointed — giving organizations a chance to fix them before problems arise. One of the most important technological resources being used to detect supply chain vulnerabilities is AI technology, which has predictive abilities that can be more effective than the human mind in some cases.
Gaining a deeper understanding of how AI technology can help identify supply chain vulnerability can give one a clearer impression of how supply chains operate, function, and allow us to live in a world in which all the goods that we desire are only a click away.
Links in the Supply Chain
To understand how AI can help identify supply chain vulnerabilities, it’s important to understand supply chains themselves. Having a general understanding of each link in the supply chain can help one develop a more accurate idea of how supply chains function.
- Materials: Supply chains begin with material processors. These individuals collect and ready materials to be made into products.
- Manufacturing: Manufacturers receive materials from material processors that they then use to create different products.
- Vendors: Vendors are those who specialize in moving products along the supply chain. Though some vendors are solely vendors, some manufacturers also act as vendors, disseminating their products to others on the supply chain.
- Warehouses and Storage: Once vendors sell their products, these products must be stored somewhere. Given the typically large quantity of products, goods are generally stored in warehouses until being moved further along the supply chain.
- Transportation: To be moved from warehouses, goods must be transported. Transportation companies are typically in charge of moving products to distribution centers.
- Distribution: To be distributed, goods move along the supply chain into distribution centers. From here, distribution centers will typically move their products along to retailers or wholesalers.
- Retail: The last stop on the supply chain is retail. At this point, consumers are able to purchase products from either a physical or online store.
Emerging Engineering Trends in Manufacturing
Manufacturers are one of the most vital components of any supply chain. At this stage in the chain, manufacturers convert raw materials — such as wood, steel, or plastic — into specific products that are ready for consumers to purchase and enjoy.
Being that manufacturing is a significant aspect of any supply chain, it is an area where it is of the utmost importance to mitigate any risks that could potentially cause problems. Thanks to some new and exciting innovations, manufacturers are taking advantage of some emerging engineering trends to become more efficient and reduce the number of problems and inconsistencies in their process of manufacturing products.
Understanding Industry 4.0
The concept of industry 4.0 revolves around the process of manufacturing becoming more digitalized in today’s evolving world. This change in the industry is characterized by the utilization of technology such as 3D printing, IoT devices, robotics, and AI. Understanding how these technologies are impacting the industry of manufacturing can give one a deeper understanding of supply chains and how they function.
- 3D printing: 3D printing allows manufacturers to create specific shapes out of raw materials in a matter of 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 aid manufacturers in collecting data about the manufacturing process. Though the data collected is often used to increase the efficiency of the manufacturing process, the data can also be useful for designers.
- Robotics: Robotics can help manufacturers automate tasks that would typically be done 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 utilize the data it has collected to make quick decisions when faced with different situations. In this way, AI can automate not only tasks of physical labor, 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 a large number of people and industries. As such, it makes sense that those in the supply chain are willing to implement new technologies to mitigate the chances of disruptions happening.
The utilization of AI technology is quickly becoming a staple in the various industries that comprise supply chains. This is because the technology has the power to help these industries avoid unnecessary complications that could potentially cause many different organizations to lose money.
As has been shown, AI has the power to increase efficiency in manufacturing, and automate problem-solving in a number of manufacturing scenarios. However, AI’s ability to advance practices in supply chains doesn’t stop there.
AI technologies have predictive abilities, and can often foresee trends that humans may overlook. As such, those in supply chains can utilize the information generated by AI technology to forecast trends and gain a rough idea of the products that will be moving through the supply chain.
Whereas without AI technology material processors and manufacturers may be caught off guard by trends — and as a result, not have the resources to meet demands — with AI, these links in the supply chain can be more prepared for any trends that arise.
The Changing Face of Supply Chains
As supply chains are becoming more digitalized, AI technology is beginning to take a more important role in the process. The technology’s capabilities — such as increasing efficiency, automating problem-solving, and forecasting trends — are helping supply chains to run smoother and fix vulnerabilities in their operations faster.
As such, it is likely that AI technology will continue to become more of a staple in the operations of supply chains and will eventually become synonymous with the process.