The supply chain is a vital system that relies on several types of technology to keep it moving smoothly. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of those technologies and what they contribute to the movement of items along the supply chain.
The Supply Chain – What It Is
The traditional supply chain is a process that starts with the acquisition of raw materials. These raw materials are manufactured into a physical product that is eventually passed on to a consumer to use. The supply chain process includes these steps: gathering necessary raw materials, purchase of those materials, manufacture of the product, distribution of the final product, and the sale of that product to an end-user.
Technologies That Keep the Supply Chain in Action
Several different technologies come in contact with the raw material and finished product as part of the process. Here is a closer look at five of the most important of these technologies.
Machine learning is the process by which computers can learn without the need for excessive programming. When machine learning is used in the supply chain, computer programs teach themselves and can alter their way of thinking each time new information is introduced. The evolution that results provides efficiencies that improve how the supply chain operates which can – in many cases – result in saved money, time, and effort to achieve the same result. Machine learning as part of the supply chain simply improves the way things are done as materials turn into products and products go to consumers.
There was a time when all sorts of things related to the supply chain could be figured out with paper and pen by using a simple flow chart to demonstrate the process. Nowadays, the complexity of steps that combine to create the supply chain, require logistics that take up something far larger than a simple notepad. This is where computer networks fit into the equation. They not only contain the memory space required to record and store massive amounts of data but when joined together in networks, different departments, suppliers and providers can all communicate with each other. A computer network in this instance keeps all parties up-to-date and working together.
Identification with Bar-Coding
By using automated identification applications, inventory is easier to track from Point A to Point B and can be accounted for throughout the entire pathway. This form of item identification with the use of bar codes also provides suppliers with the required data that tells them such things as what products are popular, when a product is in short supply and when it requires reordering. Plus, with computer applications, all of this information can be made available in real-time so that inventory supplies, item tracking, and process control can be dealt with immediately when an issue is identified. In other words, no delays occur simply because a product is misplaced within the system.
Data loggers play an important role in the supply chain as part of the environmental control system. Data loggers have sensors that record temperature and humidity – among other measurements – and record them for review. Any time a temperature-sensitive product is being distributed, data loggers are the tools of choice to make sure that the product is properly monitored. As Dickson elaborates, they are vital in areas such as the distribution of food, medicines, and other products. Data loggers work all day and all night watching conditions and can send an alert when conditions fall into an unsafe zone for human intervention to correct the problem, thus saving the cost of lost inventory.
When blockchain technology is used in a supply chain, it reduces the possibility of duplication of information sharing. Processing paperwork is an example of where this would be beneficial. The path from manufacturer to consumer produces quite a paper trail: purchase orders, transportation invoices, and inventory receipts. Many different documents are related to moving just one item as it flows through the supply chain. Blockchain technology provides all parties with a format by which all can share information and reduce the amount of duplication and paper produced. This creates a more efficient flow of traffic and information from one place to another.
Examples of Supply Chains
Supply chains surround us. The smooth flow of supply chains provides us with the things we use or come in contact with daily. Here is a shortlist of industries that employ supply chain technologies to get their products to consumers.
Vehicles move through an assembly line where manufactured parts are used to create a new car or truck. When the end of the assembly line is reached, a finished product goes to market. The vehicle is then sold to a consumer through a sales dealership.
Consumer Packaged Goods
Think about the items you buy at the local grocery store. Each of those items would have followed a supply chain: manufacturing the goods, packaging them, distribution to your grocery store, being put on display, and finally, purchased by you.
From labs where medications are developed, various pills, vaccines, and other medical products and devices are made. They are then transported to various pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals for distribution or purchase by consumers with prescriptions.
The supply chain is a vital source of any product. It starts at the moment raw materials are used to create an item and ends when the finished product is in the hands of the end-user. Along the way, that item passes through many different steps and is handled frequently. Thankfully, technologies exist to control the process and ensure that a finished product gets where it is needed without delay or damage. Without these technologies in place, sensitive products might experience issues that could result in revenue loss due to negative impacts on inventory. By tracking each item as it passes through the supply chain, the system becomes efficient and issues can be remedied before they become problematic.