A significant number of the key supply chain trends this year will build upon what has been seen in the last several years. There will, however, be some differences in certain areas and Jose Duarte, a successful businessman and entrepreneur from Costa Rica, shares his take on what’s in store for supply chains in 2019.

The blue-collar labor sector is going to continue to see shortages through this year and next, according to the Conference Board. The transportation employment segment continues to see increased shortages brought about, in part, by the prevalence of eCommerce options. Driverless trucks and drones will continue to become more capable and will, as a result, take a bigger percentage of the transportation segment.

Fulfillment demands due to the eCommerce industry are putting the squeeze on warehouse labor, as well. Explains Duarte, “automation in warehousing is becoming very common. It allows for greater efficiency and can, with the help of artificial intelligence, create quicker direct-to-consumer fulfillment.”

“Digital supply chain” refers to a system that is comprised of supply chain software, automation and communications and is the principal supply chain concept of the year. It covers a wide range of technologies, but does not yet have a singular definition. However, digitization – communication and data storage in digital format – is a key component. To that end, the digital supply chain is evolving into a phrase that describes a digital transformation and which encompasses supply chain scope and depth, breadth of analytics and incorporation of data from the digital realm.

Artificial intelligence (AI) was one of the hottest topics last year and this will continue throughout 2019, as well. There is a significant amount of supply chain technology driving AI innovation, as well as machine learning. It is particularly useful when analyzing large, fluid data sets and both AI and machine learning are now found in warehouse management, supply chain planning and visibility, robotic vision systems and more and will be found in ever-increasing numbers in supply chain systems from this year forward.

Advanced warehouse control systems (WCS) found today are real-time digital solutions that operate within the four walls of the warehouse. They receive sensor input from system automation points, evaluate that input according to established parameters and respond in near real-time to help the organization reach its operational objections. Asserts Duarte, “The WCS implementation is a type of digital supply chain initiative in that it provides sophisticated digital feedback based on the sensory input. As the suppliers of warehouse automation continue to develop their products, the warehouse will be a prime target for digitization this year.”

The Internet of Things (IoT) is also becoming a core element of digital supply chain solutions. Says Duarte, “In a way, IoT isn’t new in the supply chain world. There have been real-time fleet management solutions, and others, in use for the past couple of decades. However, more recently, the technology has evolved substantially and is capable of delivering much more data than ever before.”

There is also the “digital control tower” solution, which includes increased supply chain visibility, aggregate data from a large pool of sources – including weather, social, IoT and more – and advanced analytics that allow for broad and detailed analysis of the end-to-end supply chain.

AI, machine learning and IoT are more than just buzzwords. They’re terms that are changing the face of a large number of industries and operations, and nowhere is this going to be as recognizable as it will be in the supply chain industry.

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