Artificial Intelligence, what impact will it have on logistics?

We recently predicted that AI will become the technology to most significantly impact the temp work markets and our core sectors in forthcoming years. 

As part of our latest blog series, we wanted to ensure that our logistics clients are aware of how it is developing so that their businesses can adapt and move forward with it to achieve their goals.

The simple truth is that AI is making its way into warehouse operations, providing powerful new tools with which to better enable distribution centre activities and keep pace with rapidly shifting supply chain dynamics. 

AI is being used to solve the same problems as before but uses an extra layer of understanding. AI is capable of analysing micro-decisions and optimising them to a level not previously thought possible.

Access to data is becoming more straightforward, not least because of the rise of the Internet of Things, which can seamlessly transfer information between computer networks.

However, what most facilities lack is the ability to decide how best to capitalise on the data and what actions to subsequently take. This is where AI comes in, with its ability to streamline and automate many of the processes logistics providers offer each day. They include repetitive tasks which exhaust human capital and fail to sufficiently challenge workers.

Though many workers worry that AI will one day replace workers, currently the technology is assisting them, while enabling them to tackle more complex tasks which will help them to progress their careers.

The arrival and implementation of such technology is referred to as Industry 4.0, which started with the concept of an ‘intelligent’ factory with automated manufacturing powered by smart (Internet of Things-enabled) machines which leverage real-time data to run autonomously, flexibly and fast.

However, industry 4.0 is about more than just intelligent factories. Industry 4.0 principles and their enabling technologies, such as AI and IoT, are opening the door to processes that are highly automated, integrated and optimised. 

In the 2020s, Industry 4.0 will evolve from simply capturing real-time data to enabling data-driven business decisions. The future will be about designing and manufacturing intelligent products and assets and empowering employees to leverage the data from them to make predictive, prescriptive and automated decisions across the entire supply chain.

To that end, there will be an increased push in the adoption of seamless, connected IoT solutions, due to the availability of 5G networks. This will accelerate the creation of a digital twin of the supply chain, in turn providing the opportunity and information for AI across it.

Now is a challenging time as product cycles compress, design variability increases, demand fluctuates and delivery times shrink. This is all while consumers demand sustainable yet individualised products and experiences.

These marketplace realities do place operational pressure on the lifecycle of products and assets and the only way to address these challenges is to deliver and end-to-end digital supply chain. This is from design and planning right through to manufacturing, logistics and operations.

A further use to AI in the logistics industry relates to the driving of vehicles. Initiatives from tech companies such as Google in recent years have seen time and resources being poured into the development of self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles.

These vehicles may be manned by a human driver but they allow the driver to take breaks while still travelling. This, in turn, gets deliveries to their destinations more quickly, which is projected to save money for logistics providers. In fact, according to a report by McKinsey, autonomous vehicles could save logistics providers up to 40% on costs, which can then be passed on to clients. These savings could then be passed to the consumer in the form of lower prices or shipping rates.

As we enter a new decade, the only constant will be change itself and the key is having the business solutions in place to adapt and move with the times. This will be in order to improve on agility, customer-centricity and the increasing intelligence that the global supply chain enjoys. Taking these steps will help businesses to successfully tackle whatever the future may bring.