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Six technologies that might be closer than you think

07 December 2016

The future is coming! 

2016 has been a year of the unexpected. Trump became President, Leicester City won the Premier League, Britain voted to exit the EU and The Great British Bake Off left the BBC.

From a logistics point of view, it’s been a pretty big year as well, particularly when it comes to technology. The growth of track and trace particularly is just one example that has grown exponentially this year. We, for instance, are now able to track items at an item level rather than just as at consignment level; a massive step change for the availability of information and visibility across the supply chain.

But, with lots of noise about the future of technology it’s often easy to get caught in the hype about what the future might hold. If you’re struggling to keep up, here are six amazing advancements in technology that might be closer than you think and, if applied, will seriously change the logistics industry forever.

3D printing

We’ve heard recently that Ulsan in South Korea has set up a new $20m research project to fund and test a new manufacturing solution which will see 3D printers creating the parts required for shipbuilding.

We know that the Chinese navy has already experimented with 3D printers on warships - making spare parts while at sea – but do we think a ship, created entirely from 3D printing, is just around the corner? Quite possibly, especially considering that this year a little girl even had a new replica ear created by a 3D printer to help restore her hearing; amazing things are most definitely happening.

In a similar vein, online stores are also now investigating the use of new 3D foot scanners to help customers select the best fitting shoes. Currently, shoppers only have a 60-70% chance of selecting the right show size so this innovation is expected to help brands save money by reducing the amount of returns and incorrect purchases. Only time will tell on the benefits of that one…

Driverless vehicles

We heard recently about the driverless truck and how it has the potential is going to automate millions of jobs.

This TechCrunch article explains how the technology - which is already readily available – could bring significant efficiencies to businesses and logistics providers alike.

Not only will it help circumvent legal restrictions preventing drivers working more than 11 hours without a break, but these driverless cars could essentially work all day and at a fraction of the cost. Take into account the added fuel efficiency, and we’re talking serious financial gains.

An American company called Otto (owned by Uber) has already claimed to have made the world's first commercial delivery using technology like this. Its lorry drove for more than 120 miles along an open highway without any driver intervention transporting 51,744 can of Budweiser. Hopefully with rigorous testing, this type of technology can help reduce road fatalities, reduce emissions and provide a solution for industry driver shortages.

And, with the Vauxhall Corsa’s Advance Park Assist System already readily available on your local forecourt driverless, automated vehicles like this really might be closer than you think.

Automation

The application of automation however doesn’t just end with driverless vehicles though.

Man hours for things like forklifts are one of the most time-consuming tasks within a warehouse. New ‘robot’ forklifts however can automate this process, addresses these time inefficiencies and even process and pick orders much more quickly.

While in Italy, Leonardo-Finmeccanica (the global leader in aerospace, defence and security) has developed a new generation of sensors and systems, integrating electro-optics and radar. The application of this could mean that aircraft could fly, using conventional aviation routes, without the need of a pilot!

If you let your imagination run wild, the possibilities are endless.

Drones become a commonplace

Amazon has been trialling these already and if history has taught us anything, the wider application of these technologies might not be far behind. But the question is, are they really a viable option to use for all deliveries?

That will remain to be seen, but what is really interesting is the fact that drones aren’t only useful for final mile deliveries. Instead, they also offer the huge potential for enhancing warehouse management, for instance, for scanning barcodes of stock which might be stacked up high in a warehouse.

Reducing man hours and the need for multiple scanners, the financial and time efficiencies could be enormous.

Virtual reality

Often used for consumer applications, products like Oculus Rift DK2 Headsets and Google Glasses do also have the potential to be used en masse within the B2B world. Though traditionally used for gaming, allowing consumers to literally step into a virtual world, the same principles of augmented reality can be applied to the workplace, improving current processes or work tasks.

Within the warehouse for instance, pickers could use VR headsets and see a list of items to collect, leaving their hands free for the task in hand. The headsets could also speed up processes by selecting the most efficient route for staff to walk around the warehouse.

The possible applications for wearable technology however are endless. Other wearable gadgets worn by staff could monitor temperature, dehydration or productivity, and all in real time. With many of these applications already available as a function on most smart phones, it’s only a matter of time before we see these used more widely by logistics professionals both in and out of the warehouse. And, when you consider that providers like Carousel are already using similar technologies in consignments – for shock and temperature control monitoring – it’s easy to see how quickly this might become commonplace for all staff too.

Cryptocurrency

Are digital currencies the future?

Though not managed by banks, there are certainly lots of people within Supply Chain that think it might be with the provision of a blockchain network protocol. With reduced security risks and less cost, could 2017 be the year you request your Carousel invoice in Bitcoins via Ethereum or Ripple?

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