Supply Chain can be optimized drastically with AI
AI – The key to supply chain optimization
With mounds of data on hand and a multitude of complex moving parts, the optimisation of supply chains is a venture well suited to AI input. Indeed, the potential for AI’s impact is evident throughout the process – all the way from supply chain management, through the transportation of goods, to the delivery of orders.
Supply Chain Management
Here, the key development brought on by AI is its capacity for predictive analytics. Taking reams of data as input, an AI model can identify patterns and make predictions regarding future scenarios.
In the context of supply chain management, this is particularly beneficial when forecasting demand. Taking past sales data as input, an AI model can predict future sales and inform on which outlets are likely to sell out of certain products. Supply chain managers can then ensure that goods travel to the optimum locations at the perfect time. The accuracy of forecasting can then be bolstered further by incorporating weather information. If it is likely to be particularly sunny in certain regions, relevant goods (e.g. BBQs meats and ice cream) may sell out faster and the AI model can incorporate this into its predictions and suggestions.
Similarly, these predictive analytics can aid with the selection of suppliers. Based on data pertaining to such factors as fraud rates, credit scores, delivery performance etc., an AI model can suggest which suppliers would be an effective match. Consequently, managers can be confident that their supply chain is running as efficiently and effectively as possible.
As companies work with increasingly tough profit margins, the automation of warehouse operations as a cost-cutting mechanism is becoming ever more prevalent. A key contributor to the pursuit of fully automated facilities is intelligent robotic systems.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS), for example, bring inventory in and out of storage. Receiving instructions via Wi-fi, they fetch crates of goods and bring them to human workers who then package and sort them ready for delivery. Looking forward, these could be complemented by AI drones. Connected to the wifi, drones would monitor the warehouse and feed a central AI system. This system can then command the AS/RS as to where to go and when. Thus, the management of the warehouse can be automated while remaining efficient and safe.
An AS/RS in action – transporting inventory across the warehouse to a human worker
Taking this further, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) can identify information on parcels and sort them into the correct compartments without the need for human input. They understand their environment using onboard sensors, maps and computer vision technology. This allows them to move through the warehouse via their own individual routes, rerouting wear necessary and avoiding obstacles as they go. With these capabilities, a team of AMRs can provide an efficient, economic and accurate sorting system.
A team of AMRs sorting packages ready for delivery
Transportation and Delivery
AI can then facilitate the movement of goods – whether that be from supplier to warehouse or factory to customer.
After transporting cargo from one location to another, companies are using AI-powered visual inspections to identify any mid-journey damages. Systems scan a product or piece of equipment, identify any visual anomalies and suggest corrective measures. This ability to spot faulty inventory as soon as possible is vital for a smooth and functional supply chain operation.
Once out for delivery, route planners that rely on genetic algorithms and neural networks to add further efficiency to the process. They provide suggestions for drivers as to the quickest way to complete a delivery route, accounting for external factors such as traffic, road closures and prioritised delivery points.
Looking to the near future, autonomous vehicles are set to further revolutionise this step in the supply chain. While the widespread use of fully-automated delivery trucks remains a little way off, AI tech can be incorporated into vehicles to boost safety and efficiency. For example, lane-assist, fuel-saving systems and brake-assist are all currently available today. This can ensure delivery routes are completed rapidly, while high levels of safety are maintained.
Evidently, AI is already playing a massive role in ensuring the smooth running of business supply chains. Looking ahead, with AI technology advancing at its current rapid rate, solutions that look to further optimise the supply chain must consider AI for innovative inspiration.