When most people hear the words “supply chain management” or even “logistics, it is very likely the first image that comes to mind is lorries packed with goods headed to and from the Coast.
This is likely followed by a memory of that one time a truck struggling to make it up a steep hill caused a traffic jam on your way up country in December, but that’s neither here nor there.
Of course logistics constitutes of much more than road freighting, but this is a major part of what we do which is subject – along with the rest of the industry – to a number of advances that may completely change its face as we know it.
The most obvious issue at hand is the advent and increasing popularity of drones in supply chain management.
In their present state drones mainly cater to small consumer goods, but we must stop to consider the implications of their existence: major global retailer Amazon has plans to route deliveries of up to around 2kgs to drones, with deliveries being made within an impressive 30 minutes of ordering.
This will not only cut costs associated with storage and transportation of goods, it will also greatly increase customer satisfaction and efficiency.
Speaking of automation, the next frontier may have the biggest impact on the manufacturing industry, but its ripples will be left in logistics as well: machine work forces.
The revolution has already begun, in Japan, naturally, who are already yards ahead of us. Pushed by a growing shortage of labour force due to an aging population whose birth rate cannot close the gap, their supply of able hands continues to dwindle.
While other developed nations bolster their workforce with immigrants, Japan has turned to their already impressive robotics arm to fill in the gap.
One major leap forward came in 2014 with the launch of Toho Holdings Company’s distribution centre, which boasts 16 robots which have almost all but replaced human warehouse workers.
The speed and ability to lift much heavier loads than any human can manage makes these machines efficient, and enables employers to diversify the work force: since physical fitness and strength is no longer required to work in a factory, women or people with physical disabilities can easily be hired to operate the controls of the machines.
For developments specific to road freighting, there is the consideration of electric cars rising to overtake those powered by fossil fuels.
Granted, this is still a far off development: Tesla Motors Inc., one of the key players in luxury electric cars has yet to make profits in margins that would justify its existence, recently announcing their 11th straight quarterly loss.
Should the electric car model become firmly integrated into our society, the massive reduction in costs caused by fossil fuel purchase could see the savings invested into making the supply chain industry a force to be reckoned with.
Coupled with the self driving car developments we are seeing now and can expect to hear much more of, the days of immense human resource costs of recruiting drivers and other road crew, as well as incidents of cargo theft caused by collusion between staff and external persons will also disappear.
While a lot of this may be hypothetical at this stage, the future is at hand and it is upon us to prepare to adjust. If the current spats between Nairobi taxi drivers and the Uber service is anything to go by, it is very easy to be caught flat footed by technology. Do stay current, won’t you?