5 Trends in Industrial Supply Chain Management We'll See This Year

This year will be one of transformation for supply chains, and this change will be for the better.

The mass disruptions brought by 2020 will likely inspire substantial changes across industries in 2021. Industrial supply chains have experienced some of the most significant challenges, so they’ll likewise experience some of the most dramatic shifts in 2021. This year will be one of transformation for supply chains, and this change will be for the better.

The pandemic highlighted areas throughout supply chains where they could use improvement. In general, companies have found that resiliency, visibility, and worker safety are not where they should be. Here are five trends that will emerge in industrial supply chain management to correct this.

IoT Adoption. According to a recent Deloitte survey, 76 percent of manufacturing executives plan on investing more in digital technologies. Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be some of the most popular, given the need for real-time data visibility. Networks of connected devices will give supply chain managers insight into potential disruptions and enable smoother, safer operations.

Some facilities have adopted IoT wearables that beep when workers get too close, facilitating social distancing. These will prove useful even after the pandemic fades by helping workers stay away from fall hazards or moving machinery.

In light of these safety and transparency benefits, IoT adoption will continue to rise throughout 2021.

Increased Automation. Industrial supply chains were already becoming increasingly automated, but this trend will accelerate this year. Amid regular disruptions and COVID-19-related losses, automation’s cost-effectiveness is hard for businesses to ignore. Robotics will also help warehouses recover amid growing labor shortages in the sector.

The past year has also highlighted automation’s potential for improving worker health and safety. Placing collaborative robots in stations between workers can maximize social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19. After the pandemic, this practice can prevent other diseases, like the flu, from spreading, minimizing lost productivity and protecting workers’ health.

Proactive Quality Control. Given the pandemic-spurred recession, industrial facilities need to minimize errors to become as profitable as possible. To that end, supply chain managers will likely abandon reactive approaches to quality control in favor of proactive practices. In these models, facilities work to reduce opportunities for errors to occur instead of fixing them afterwards.

Studies have shown that these practices can reduce unplanned scrap by 69 percent in some applications. As a result, supply chains will become more cost-effective as they reduce waste and improve productivity. They’ll be able to recover more quickly and remain more profitable.

Flexible Scheduling. The COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted the need for flexible staffing in industrial supply chains. While facilities required workers who tested positive for COVID-19 to quarantine, many might not have done so in fear of losing hours or sick days. If scheduling policies were more lenient, sick employees would be more likely to stay home, protecting the rest of the workforce.

As automation adoption increases, more facilities will have the resources to enable flexible staffing. Workers could take time off as needed, and robots would fill in the productivity gaps. Supply chains could improve their workers’ health and safety without sacrificing efficiency.

Regular Auditing. 2020 tested industrial supply chains in a manner they hadn’t experienced before. While this caused considerable disruptions, it also highlighted paths towards improvement. Supply chain managers can experience similar benefits without the disruption through regular auditing.

Research suggests that stress testing is a crucial first step towards resiliency planning. Now that COVID-19 has emphasized the importance of employee health, facilities will apply this to health and safety measures, too. Warehouses and other supply chain workplaces will test their workflows and policies to see if and where they can improve.

Supply Chain Management Is on the Brink of Transformation

After a year as tumultuous as 2020, few companies will finish 2021 the same way they started. Previous supply chain management trends have proved unreliable, and new ways forward have emerged. As the year goes on, supply chain management will evolve to become a safer, more resilient, and more productive industry.

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