We are currently in the midst of the fourth iteration of the digital revolution. It began in the automotive industry in the ’70s with electronic engine management systems and airbag control functions and has evolved with each new advancement. Now, vehicles come equipped with highly advanced technologies that are doing more than just making transportation safer — they are helping optimize supply chains.
Everything is more accessible today, which is overall a great benefit of living in the 21st century, but it has put a lot of pressure on supply chains. A global economy means more people can access and order products from anywhere in the world, but many supply chains haven’t progressed fast enough to keep up with demands.
Among the many supply chain issues that economies have struggled with in recent years, the ones that stand out the most in 2023 are things like transportation and logistics bottlenecks, and lack of resilience. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, for example, the world’s supply systems were not equipped to handle such massive interruptions. Since then, several weaknesses in supply chains have been exposed like staffing shortages, capacity limitations, transportation constraints, and general imbalances between supply and demand.
For example, there currently is a severe shortage of truckers in the United States which has caused delivery delays and related supply chain disruptions. The U.S. economy heavily depends on the trucking industry — practically every product consumed by Americans is transported on trucks. Transportation-related disruptions have led to about a 60 percent increase in U.S. inflation over the past 2 years.
The U.S. House of Representatives has reintroduced The Strengthening Supply Chains Through Truck Driver Incentives Act, aiming to encourage new truck drivers to join the industry and retain existing truck drivers through tax credits for the next 2 years, offering $10,000 for new drivers and $7,500 for existing drivers.
In addition, high technology can make trucking more efficient — and safer.
The answer to supply chain woes
Supply chain delays are frustrating for everyone — the consumer, the supplier, and even the middleman who is in charge of getting products from point A to point B. However, with Industry 4.0 upon us, navigating supply chain challenges is becoming much easier.
We are moving from mobile to mobility. Many companies have already digitized their processes and gone “mobile,” but newer technologies now enable even greater mobility and efficiency. Thanks to tech like IoT, for example, automotive OEMs are seeing more impactful outcomes from their deeper integration of mobile technology that allows for greater organization, connection, and communication.
On the driver’s side of things, numerous technologies are making the transportation of goods safer and more efficient, which can help with delays and improve deliveries. IR technology uses lasers and imaging sensors to keep drivers from being distracted and falling asleep at the wheel. If a driver were to start nodding off at the wheel, for example, the IR system would detect this and then sound an alarm or send an alert.
Other driver assistance technologies that are having an impact on supply chain transportation include:
- Blind spot monitoring: Large freight trucks have huge blind spots, which can lead to accidents that can cause delivery delays. Blind spot monitoring, however, enables drivers to avoid these kinds of accidents more often.
- Lane assist: Lane assist systems can help with a few things, such as keeping trucks centered in lanes and sending out alerts when the truck crosses over a lane line.
- Automated emergency braking (AEB): Commercial freight trucks require much larger stopping distances. If the driver can’t hit the brakes quickly enough when someone merges in front of them, it can have severe consequences. AEB can help by detecting when the brakes need to be applied and automatically applying them, potentially faster than the driver would have been able to, which can prevent accidents.
Advanced routing systems that use AI and GPS technologies can also help drivers find more efficient routes, significantly reducing delays. There are even autonomous freight vehicles in the works, which can remove the human element, thus removing human error to promote greater efficiency with freight transportation.
Adjusting to delays
Using technologies like IoT, AI and analytics, and driver assistance systems can significantly improve supply chain operations, but they are not the only answers to all of our supply chain problems. While implementing more advanced technologies certainly helps, it’s also necessary for companies to adopt more thorough risk management and contingency plans to minimize loss and adjust to delays.
Better contingency planning, for example, can help ensure the continuity of operations in the face of unexpected setbacks or disasters. A quality risk management program can also help companies identify potential risks ahead of time so they can take preventative measures to eliminate the risk before it becomes a problem.
By implementing these kinds of plans and programs alongside the use of more advanced technologies, companies can significantly reduce operational delays and have greater success.
It’s worth noting that, while there are many benefits to adopting technologies to address supply chain issues, the technology itself can also pose a problem if companies aren’t careful. The rapid adoption of new tech can create confusion and even more problems without proper training and preparation. So before companies overhaul their operations, they must take the time to understand the technologies they are adopting and integrate them steadily to allow everyone to adjust. This will ensure fewer errors and setbacks and greater success going forward.