Some small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within supply chain management may feel uneasy about artificial intelligence (AI) and what it could mean for their future.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, AI is “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages” (1).
Today, AI is already disrupting the supply chain with technology never seen before. But it’s important that a product manager doesn’t feel daunted by the mention of this technology. It has rapidly evolved, becoming user-friendly to those with little to zero experience.
In the last decade, “AI has come roaring out of high-tech labs to become something that people use every day without even realizing it. In addition to powering numerous apps and other digital products, AI stands to benefit all industries, including supply chain and logistics” (2).
Here are some forms of AI that will help SMEs revolutionize their supply chain operations.
Thanks to AI, product managers won’t need to put much guesswork into data, due to smart algorithms. These algorithms collect and sort numbers intuitively, meaning there’s less of a need for number crunching. Algorithmic advancements have also allowed for “the detection of patterns and discovery of correlations that were difficult or impossible to find by humans or conventional technology alone” (2).
As an example, “smart algorithms can offer valuable information such as the number of trucks available for delivery ahead of time so customers can know the price and approximate time frames for future deliveries” (2).
AI Sorting and Inspections
As it turns out, product managers can expect to see AI taking over some of the menial and time-consuming tasks that human workers do, so the humans can focus on more strategic elements.
Take for example Intelligent Robotic Sorting, an effective, high-speed sorting of letters, parcels and palletized shipments. Robotic Sorting could help lessen the burden of supply chain systems generally run by humans (2).
Product managers can also expect to see AI-Powered Visual Inspection technology. Photos of cargo are taken using specialized cameras to identify damage and identify an appropriate corrective action. Through this method, quality control could be automated and customer satisfaction would likely increase (2).
Natural Language Processing (NLP)
We’re already familiar with language processing, as seen by Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa. Much of this language processing is based on preset responses. However, “NLP goes beyond these limitations and lets individuals use their normal speech and writing patterns to communicate with computer systems in a faster, easier and more convenient way” (3).
The positive implications for NLP in supply chain operations are significant. This is because “Natural language processing can remove much of the administrative overhead in managing the supply chain. This includes understanding local and global news and events, making it easier for stakeholders to query the supply chain, providing language translation, using adaptive forms and automating customer service” (3).
This type of technology continues to grow and will be increasingly integrated into existing applications that supply chain personnel are familiar with today.
Robots for Safety
There’s no doubt that robots are increasing productivity within warehouses and will continue to do so. This is advantageous for another reason; replacing humans for specific tasks within dangerous settings or manufacturing processes could help to reduce death and injury. Self-driving cars, for example, are in the supply chain’s future.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRS)
AMRs are Autonomous Mobile Robots that are used in hardware solutions. Those who work in a warehouse setting understand the long process is tracking RFID tags in a warehouse.
According to Forbes, “AMRs are used to help automate ecommerce fulfillment. AMRs do not follow a predetermined path but can navigate around obstacles” (4). With this market becoming more expansive, it will become more accessible to warehouses over time. Being able to handle ecommerce more efficiently with the help of AMRs will serve several benefits.
Today, many product managers and warehouse workers are using AI that they aren’t even aware of. This goes to show how far the technology has already come and how used to it we’ve become. This also goes to show the potential AI has for advancing the future supply chain operations of SMEs.
AI doesn’t always have to be expensive, either. Since smaller companies might not have access to it, they can research BPOs and software vendors that offer AI integrations (5). Learning about AI within the context of supply chain operations can be made easier by hiring people who specialize in the area. It’s tempting to say yes to new technology right away just to jump on the latest and greatest bandwagon. Instead, ask for opinions, talk to experts and negotiate with more than one company. Carefully choose the opportunity that will best benefit the promotion of your company goals.