Top 10 Supply Chain Innovations of 2021

Jan. 3, 2022
A salute to the most innovative achievements in supply chain technology, processes and labor management from the past year.

2021 was supposed to be the year that everything got back to normal, but we’ve all seen how that turned out. If 2020 was The Year of COVID-19, 2021 ended up becoming The Year the Supply Chain Broke, or at least that’s how the popular media has been describing it. Countless photos of backlogged cargo ships waiting at ports for days on end, empty retail shelves and “Help Wanted” signs in front of every trucking company have become symbolic of everything that’s gone wrong since the pandemic threw what had been a roaring economy into a tailspin.

And yet, despite all that, the supply chain continues to get things done—maybe not quite as quickly as everyone would like, but from all indications the 2021 holiday season could be the biggest ever. And with a freshly-approved trillion-dollar infrastructure plan now in place, those roads, bridges, ports and highway projects that have languished in logistics limbo for far too long may someday soon become a reality.

Every year, we take a look back at some of the most innovative and potentially game-changing technologies that have helped energize supply chains, and 2021 had more than its share of just-plain-awesome ideas and solutions. What follows is a quick retrospective of some of the most popular articles of the past year, as covered in print, on our website, in our e-newsletters, or our various social media channels. So while a lot went wrong in the supply chain in 2021, let’s close out the year by looking at some of the ways things went right.

Peter Fretty, technology editor of IndustryWeek, contributed to this article.

Click the links below to compare this year's innovations to those from previous years:

Top 10 Supply Chain Innovations of 2020: autonomous taxis, smart warehouses, track & trace standards for container shipping, and more.

Top 10 Supply Chain Innovations of 2019: delivery drones, traceability in pharma supply chains, digital twins, and more.

Top 10 Supply Chain Innovations of 2018: do-it-yourself logistics, truck platoons, autonomous boats, warehouse robotics, and more.

Top 10 Supply Chain Innovations of 2017: exoskeletons, autonomous forklifts, flying warehouses, last-mile delivery, and more.

Top 10 Supply Chain Innovations of 2016: robot pickers, bridge-inspecting drones, autonomous freight shuttles, and more.

Top 10 Supply Chain Innovations of 2015: solar-powered vessel, robot dispatcher, 3-D printed flight parts, and more.

Top 10 Supply Chain Innovations of 2014: hybrid DCs, 3-D prototypes, location-based inventory system, and more.

Supply Chain Innovators of 2013: paperless food chain, VLMs, cold chain fleet management, and more.