Smart Technology, Smart Investments - Business Media MAGS

Sunday Times Supply Chain

Smart Technology, Smart Investments

There are many ways technology can assist the supply chain. It’s all about making the right investments, writes Itumeleng Mogaki.

Better and safer ways of moving goods are one positive impact businesses can expect from their technology investments. This is according to Neil Gouveia, sales director at Zebra Technologies (Africa).

“Yard operations have increasingly seen cutting-edge technologies such as real-time location solutions and radio-frequency identification (RFID) being implemented to complement warehouse and transport management systems, and to automate data capture and decision-making across larger and more complex operations,” says Gouveia. He adds that these technologies can provide unprecedented visibility into every corner of operations, helping transport and logistics providers make more informed decisions and gain a competitive advantage.

Implementing RFID tags on lorries to facilitate inbound and outbound scheduling, door-to-door moves, and automatic parking assignments is just one example. Gouveia gives an example of an energy company that implemented a rugged, tablet-based mobility system that – in combination with its yard management system – led to better-informed transportation scheduling and routing decisions, based on actual supply and demand of both gas tanks and delivery trucks.

These technologies helped this business eliminate the physical logjams that had historically challenged its natural gas production facilities. In fact, during early deployments of the solution, the company achieved a 50 per cent increase in the availability of its gas transporters due to the streamlined management of inbound and outbound delivery truck inspections.

According to Zebra’s 2024 Warehousing Vision Study, automation will enhance worker performance, rather than replace workers, during the next few years. In other words, robotic automation solutions will serve as allies to workers, allowing people to focus on more strategic tasks while the robots take care of the mundane, repetitive tasks such as materials handling.

To that end, Zebra designs its hardware, software and services solutions with front-line users, workplaces and workflows in mind. Tasks that require walking will shift to robotics solutions, both in the warehouse and in factories. Tasks like getting a worker to inspect a product visually before making a decision will shift toward machine vision, RFID and sensor technologies, powered by intelligent software platforms.

These technologies will be stitched together to ensure proper execution that matches or improves the productivity of workers, allowing for more time to be reallocated to tasks that help drive better customer service.

Huge impact

Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association, says that AI and related technologies have already had a huge impact on the supply chain sector. “The obvious gains have been in accuracies relating to orders (picking), route selection and despatch, consolidation of consignments, tracking of deliveries and proof of receipt.”

Kelly says the greater benefits lie in real-time control of stock levels across various platforms and holding centres, critical inventory-level management, cash flow and capital management. “Other benefits include reverse logistics (including warranties and returns due to customer requirements) and the management of shrinkage, with linked-in security and safety systems.

“A large amount of routine, manual administration has been taken over by automated systems. This has influenced many consumables (like paper and printing requirements), but by and large has removed many large error margins.”

Kelly acknowledges that there are debates around AI being able to take “moral” decisions. Currently an action can be decided on the non-conformance of an object – for example mass, size, colour, temperature and so forth. “The ability for AI to acquire and apply human values relating to responsibility, common sense and experiential inflected decisions is probably far off, and up for discussion.”


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