Every decade in the past 100 years has left its mark on history and society. They have also left us with innovations that shaped how supply chains operate today.
The 1910s gave us "the war to end all wars" but also introduced assembly lines in factories and the first industrial truck, the forerunner of today's lift truck.
The 1920s were roaring and brought with them air deliveries, radio and wireless communications, and standardization of roads and highways in America to make transporting freight easier.
The 1930s saw the launch of airmail across the Atlantic, the birth of frozen foods and refrigerated transport, and the introduction of Scotch Tape for use in packaging operations.
In the 1940s, World War II delivered innovations tied to the war effort, including one that redefined military logistics: the pallet. It also ushered in the transistors used in electronics today.
The 1950s brought standardized shipping containers and the introduction of the Interstate Highway System, integrated circuits, and dot-matrix printers. Bar codes were also invented during this decade.
The Vietnam War and social unrest were the touchstones of the 1960s. Container use expanded with the adoption of international ISO standards that allowed more consistent handling of containers, while the containers themselves moved to the rails to create an intermodal transport system.
The 1970s brought us Watergate and disco, as well as the desktop computers that revolutionized information sharing. The universal product code (UPC) started to appear on boxes, making inventory tracking easier.
The 1980s was a time of trickle-down economics, but the decade also witnessed the rise of automatic identification technologies and home computing. Railroads began double-stacking containers on trains so they could haul more freight per trip.
The Cold War ended in the 1990s. It was also the decade when the internet and email took off. Early radio-frequency identification (RFID) deployments and expanded use of electronic data interchange (EDI) helped facilitate the flow of information along with goods through the supply chain.
The 2000s featured the Great Recession and the growth of globalization. Asian manufacturing expanded as did demand for freight service to bring goods to the North American market. Online retail was born, along with smart devices, GPS, file sharing, and social networks.
And lastly, the decade of the 2010s expanded on existing technologies and added cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), self-driving vehicles, and more.
Where will the 2020s take us in supply chain? Robotics, hyperloop transport, autonomous deliveries, and ever-connected IoT devices are just a few innovative technologies that may become commonplace in the supply chains of the new decade. Welcome to the 2020s. It will be fun to watch.