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Logistics: under the influence of Industry 4.0

clock 4 minutes | 17 Dec 2020

Robotic arm picking packages

Online shoppers are now used to buying products and getting speedy, easy delivery within a few days. Now, manufacturers are having to meet these expectations, without always having the infrastructure to match.

Luckily, Industry 4.0 has a range of technologies and processes that can help manufacturers meet these demands. By taking advantage of this new machinery and the data it produces, logistics operators and distributors can improve their efficiency and performance easily.

So what do these Logistics 4.0 technologies look like and what benefits and opportunities do they bring to logistics operations, manufacturers and customers?

What is Logistics 4.0?

Logistics 4.0 refers to supply chain, warehouse and transport operations that are enhanced and improved by Industry 4.0 technologies. From robotics to data analytics, new equipment and processes are enabling logistics operators to make continuous improvements across their network.

McKinsey and Company’s recent study predicted that four technology areas would be a focus for industry leaders in the next few years:

  • Digital control towers: these will enable real-time data to be captured from across logistics operations, allowing a team to fix problems quickly or even prevent them happening
  • Network engineering: by having a dynamic network design, logistics operations can adapt and continuously improve, enabling maximum efficiency and speed
  • Fleet management: innovations in truck technology mean that driver data can be easily shared and inform logistics decision making, such as telematics or fuel efficiency
  • Carrier analytics: by continuously analysing data from third party carriers, manufacturers can ensure they’re getting the best possible performance and even compare pricing.

These technologies will not only enable logistics teams to increase their efficiency and performance, but get products to customers quickly, easily and at a low cost.

Drone delivering box

The changing supply chain

PWC’s Future of the Logistics Industry report said that, in order to stay ahead of the competition, operators had to respond to customers who now expect to get goods faster, more flexibly and at low or no delivery cost.

To do this, operators need to get feedback from both ends of their supply chain. Industry 4.0 technology is making it easier for operators, manufacturers and customers to share data and communicate.

Enabling complete visibility over the industrial supply chain is one of the main goals of Logistics 4.0. This is because it will bring benefits to businesses across the network, including:

  • Real-time analytics that can be used to identify and fix problems quickly.
  • Demand scheduling, so manufacturers can plan in production and make informed decisions about their business planning.
  • Better access to customer feedback, whether this is through an ecommerce site, or an independently collected measurement.

This greater access to data will enable logistics teams to continuously improve their customer service.

Better warehouse technology

Automated technology group Dematic is working on a variety of projects, including improving order fulfilment and piece picking in warehouses. Dematic integrates its automated order picking into existing manual processes to increase efficiency and improve order accuracy.

Similarly, Swisslog is using 'intelligent' warehouse software systems, such as SynQ, to offer operators virtual and augmented reality tools. They’re also harnessing business intelligence data to optimize performance and forecasting. With a robotic system called ItemPiQ, they are also ‘able to detect grasping points of unknown items’ via an intelligent vision system. After recognizing the product, it then uses one of four different grasping methods to pick it without causing damage.

At Essentra Components, we use similar technologies to improve the distribution of our products. From the moment the product arrives from our manufacturing sites, it’s tracked in our digital warehouse and placed within a flexible stacking system. We then use a combination of robotics and automation to pick products and prepare them for transport.

By monitoring our performance through warehouse data, we’re also able to analyse our efficiency and quickly identify areas for improvement. This means we’re always running the most efficient warehouse possible, so we can get products to our customers on time.

Innovative transport

Innovation in transport

Of course, warehousing is only one part of logistics. Another is transport. Here, the industry is seeing a greater move towards driverless trucks and vans to increase efficiencies and reduce the number of lost or damaged items. By making deliveries driverless, logistics operators will be able to plan the best routes to avoid traffic, optimize fuel and get their packages to customers on time.

Steve Twydell, Chief Executive of transport management experts 3T Logistics, says that these technologies will enable operators to take on the role of transport managers.

“We use data and machine learning algorithms to optimize the utilization of vehicles,” he explains. "We try and optimize resource to make transport more efficient and cost-effective. More and more firms are wanting to take back control of their transport operations and are rejecting the old outsourcing trend. By using our platform, we can help them do that.”

Twydell says that although there’s been some resistance to the adoption of transport innovations, industry leaders have proven that you can make real efficiencies and improvements in customer service by embracing these technologies.

He says, "The opportunity for improvement is there. Logistics is a very fragmented, very manual industry with lots of human beings doing routine processes. By automating those processes and cutting out human mistakes, you can transport the right product on the right route to customers more effectively".

How is Essentra Components adapting to Logistics 4.0?

As a manufacturer and distributor, Essentra Components has been developing a long-term strategy to continuously improve their delivery to customers. By making investments in our warehouse management software and collecting, analysing and using a range of logistics data, we deliver our products to customers on time easily.

Plus, we ask for regular feedback from our customers via a Net promoter score. By using this measurement, we can feed in changes to our operations and processes to make sure we always deliver a hassle-free service to customers.

In the future, we hope to find a way to open up our supply chain to customers so they can have even greater visibility over their products. Although sufficient data security makes this a challenge, we’re continuously working on a long-term strategy to make this happen for our customers.

What is Industry 4.0?