If your company wants to ensure its long-term survival, it had better take a close look at the following technologies -- drones, driverless vehicles, 3-D printing, wearable technology and robotics.
Of these technologies, studied by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Global Supply Chain Institute, robotics will be the greatest potential disrupter over the next five years.
"Robotics have been around for more than 50 years, but they have become dramatically more dynamic in the last five," said Paul Dittmann, executive director of the Global Supply Chain Institute. "They are no longer stationary, blind, expensive and unintelligent but can work alongside people and learn as jobs change."
Drones might not be ready for their anticipated role in last-mile delivery of consumer goods but are close to helping with less technically challenging tasks such as tracking warehouse inventories or managing trailer yard security.
Wearable technologies like smart glasses will likewise find application in the warehouse, helping workers sort, pack and inventory items as well as identifying safety hazards or the shortest path to their next pick.
Driverless vehicles have already been tested and approved in seven states and will substantially affect transportation costs once they can be caravanned or reach a port-to-port automation point.
Considered the least viable in the short term, 3-D printing is identified as having the potential to eliminate the supply chain completely if costs can be reduced and usable materials expanded.
The study, sponsored by Kenco Logistics and JDA Software, notes that these physical technologies are inextricably linked to digital innovations like big data and the Internet of Things. Real breakthroughs will require a seamless link among the physical devices and their digital and software interfaces.
"We are at a turning point in the industry where disruptive innovation is required to meet the exponentially growing customer expectations," said Danny Halim, vice president of distribution and 3PL strategies at JDA Software.