The desires of the consumer so often act as the fuel that drives the machine business innovation— low-waste, high-speed solutions for getting products from point A to point B have literally expanded beyond direct human control in an endless quest for perfection. And fulfillment is the catalyst that's inspiring logistics professionals to bolster their supply chain technology.
The progression has been nothing less than fascinating to watch.
Who Needs Drivers?
There's a lot of buzz in the news about Google's driverless cars, with 10% of the country already making legal provisions to pave— no pun intended— the way for these unique vehicles. Look beyond this latest bout of hype, however, and you'll see the precursors to those end-consumer-ready cars in the warehousing and fulfillment industry.
Shirin Ghaffary notes in Elementum that large companies like Amazon have already been using rack-climbing robots to simplify picking in their warehouses for years, and shipping yards in Germany rely on driverless vehicles to cart freight to and fro on the shortest possible routes.
The True World Wide Web
Once a term for the digital internet, the "internet of things"— a phrase coined to incorporate various web-connected accessories, tools and modules— is redefining the concept of a web.
Will Green writes in Supply Management about a scenario where a celebrity's wearable, Twitter-connected pendant could instantly shift demand for a product that he or she is using by spurring interest in their fan base. Rather than being blindsided— or worse, running out— because of an influx of unexpected orders, the “internet of things” would allow the manufacturer for that product to see and prepare for demand. Better still, automated systems can be tuned to watch for favorable mentions and order additional supplies or cautioned to note complaints and trigger a quality control check in a line or batch.
When properly leveraged, the benefits of this system— already in its creation infancy— could virtually eliminate unnecessary shortages and mitigate consumer complaints and returns. Supply chain KPIs would follow suit on an upward climb, and consumer satisfaction in brands would skyrocket alongside.
(Almost) Instant Gratification
The International Space Station, the perfect example of a micro-environment, is limited as to what it can take with it into orbit due to weight. On a recent mission, a 3D printer was brought aboard along with printing medium, and an email was sent from the ground into space to manifest a 3D printed wrench needed for repairs in the shuttle itself. Back on terra firma, the implications for the nearly-limitless objects that can be produced from a single batch of printing medium translate to exciting possibilities for delivery-based solutions.
Office Depot and UPS stores have already brought 3D printing capabilities into select stores, beginning what could be a new era for the concept of instant consumer gratification. With tabletop 3D printers creeping down into the price range of an average affordable computer, the opportunities for companies to interact with and build on their consumers— customized modification pieces, repair modules, straight item purchase— are nothing short of intriguing.
The World of Fulfillment Is Inexorably Linked to Innovation
The two urge each other into greater heights of possibility and success with each step forward. The only downside to this tech boom is that conscientious companies must make a concerted effort to stay on top of trends. It’s no longer enough to simply sit back and wait for the next industry event or customer survey to gain insights.
Businesses must actively be on the lookout for news of the latest trends and innovations. Thankfully, eager news reporting and industry chatter make staying in touch an easy task for those that are actively listening, providing comprehensive takeaways that are easily carried to board meetings, brainstorm gatherings and other business-driven summits.