Four key trends will shape the supply chain landscape in 2019, contract logistics provider DHL Supply Chain said January 8.
Although a host of emerging technologies will continue to gain attention throughout the supply channel—including blockchain technology and others—DHL points to robotics, risk management, the talent gap and digital transportation solutions as those that will have the greatest impact on the North American supply chain in 2019.
"Supply chain complexity has been growing for years and several of these trends threaten to create even more complexity," according to Scott Sureddin, CEO of DHL Supply Chain, North America, Westerville, Ohio. "However, we are also now seeing key technologies reach a level of maturity that enables them to be used to better manage complexity while also increasing productivity and reducing costs. That makes 2019 a very exciting year in the continuing evolution of the industry."
The four key trends will shape the industry as follows, according to DHL:
Warehouse robotics come of age. Robotics are already proving their value in select warehouse applications, but the technology is expected to reach a tipping point in 2019, according to DHL. The DHL Supply Chain distribution network is an example of the leap robotics could make, the company says. DHL's recent announcement to expand use of select emerging technologies by 2020 includes a heavy focus on robotics based on strong results from initial trials.
While order picking is a key focus of robotic development, the technology is expected to have an impact that extends beyond e-commerce fulfillment, the company also says. The ability of the current generation of robots to work alongside humans while performing low-value tasks that increase overall warehouse productivity is applicable across a broad range of industries and warehouse tasks.
Increased uncertainty drives greater agility. In today's global and interconnected supply chains, new tariffs, renegotiated trade agreements and regional climate events can have a ripple effect that paralyzes an entire supply chain, according to DHL. This is making proactive supply chain planning more important than ever. Designing supply chains with that can circumvent natural disasters or quickly reconfigure to accommodate shifts in costs or material availability resulting from tariffs has become critical to maintaining high service levels, the company adds.
Talent gets the attention it deserves. While the talent gap remains a challenge, solutions are starting to emerge, according to DHL.
"As the world's largest contract logistics provider, DHL Supply Chain has taken a proactive and multi-faceted approach to recruiting and retention that has allowed the company to consistently meet customer requirements in tight labor markets," the company says. "In addition to using robotics to increase productivity, the company has automated every step of the recruiting process, from online applications to pre-hire testing to onboarding, to increase the quantity and quality of applicants for hourly positions. DHL Supply Chain is also working closely with a number of universities and colleges to promote the career opportunities available in supply chain management while helping prepare students to enter the industry."
Digitalization closes the transportation service gap and helps shippers think beyond today's shipment. Digitalization is being applied broadly to a host of supply chain issues, but the area that will benefit most directly in 2019 is transportation, DHL says. A number of digital solutions are emerging to enable the industry to make better use of available transportation resources and close the service gap.
Cloud-based Transportation Management Systems (TMS) are extending the value of TMS to smaller enterprises, providing the insight and data to optimize resources, the company says. In addition, increased use of IoT in the form of fleet management systems allows data from truck operations to improve utilization and reduce downtime. However, DHL says the biggest opportunity is in the emergence of digital freight platforms that create online marketplaces that quickly and efficiently connect shippers with carriers, streamlining processes, optimizing costs and expanding the available options.
"... DHL Supply Chain has heavily invested in these types of innovations to help shippers think beyond today's shipment and strategically plan for the future, while still solving the challenges of today," according to DHL.