The self-driven supply chain: what it is and why you should care

Mar 25, 2019
  • operations
  • engineering & projects
  • artificial intelligence & RPA

From mass customization and ever-shorter lead times to an increased demand for transparency and sustainability: as customers demand more from businesses, the pressure on supply chains increases. Luckily, technology is evolving as well: according to predictions, the self-driven supply chain could become a reality by 2030. “The what?” We’re glad you asked!

RPA, digital twins, artificial intelligence, AGVs, IoT, voice recognition, augmented reality, chatbots… Our workplaces are being flooded with new and intelligent technologies. And it’s not hard to see their appeal: all of them are aimed at helping us work smarter and increasing operational efficiency. Over time, however, these technologies will be able to interact throughout the supply chain in more meaningful ways, creating what our experts have dubbed ‘the self-driven supply chain’.

Balancing expectations and environment

“The demand for technological innovation is directly linked to the challenges of today’s society,” explains Alexander Naessens, SAP Digital Manufacturing solutions lead at delaware. “Customer expectations play a big part in this, but there’s also a very urgent need to be more energy efficient, in terms of financial and environmental costs. Merging these different drivers is a key challenge, and it’s where we believe the self-driven supply chain can be a major differentiator for businesses.”

For now, the self-driven supply chain only exists as a concept. Still, companies who want to keep ahead in an increasingly competitive landscape should start taking their first steps today. “Many companies already have some kind of intelligence running through their supply chains,” Alexander continues. “The goal is to start introducing new technologies by assessing their value in the short term.”

Set, accelerate and automate

And that’s where delaware comes in. “Instead of being a reseller of technologies, we guide our customers through their business transformation and support them in finding the right solution for their specific goals,” Alexander continues. “That’s why we’ve developed a three-step approach to prioritizing and implementing supply chain innovations: set, accelerate, and automate."

  1. Set: The first step is to get a clear picture of the direction in which the supply chain needs to evolve to accommodate new customers and customer needs, changing technology, and varying environmental factors. The input gained through interviews with key people in the business and a number of innovation workshops is then distilled into a couple of focus areas.
  2. Accelerate: In the second step, the transformation of the supply chain is put into practice by implementing key technologies. Through an as-is analysis, areas of underperformance, gaps and bottlenecks are identified, resulting in a pilot shortlist. Next is the execution of one or more pilots based on a clear roadmap. A crucial step here is, of course, measuring the success of each pilot.
  3. Automate: After the debrief of each pilot, the most successful ones are anchored into the supply chain and evaluated regularly.

Bringing order to chaos

“A simple example of this process could be a car company striving for zero defects,” says Alexander. “To achieve this goal, the overall quality of the cars needs to improve fast. One way to do this is by increasing the effectiveness of quality control. Implementing a state-of-the-art visual quality control system could be a good start. In a second step, the results of the visual quality control can then be linked to, for example, the machine parameters, the quality of the raw materials etc. Bit by bit, new technologies will start interacting with each other, making the supply chain self-driven.”

It all sounds simple on paper, but despite the clear advantages, many companies are hesitant to implement new technologies. The main reason? An overload of innovations comes with big promises. Alexander: “It’s our task as consultants to help our clients gain insight into what might work for them, and to demonstrate business value. In this way, we aim to lower the threshold for businesses to take the leap and realize their full potential. The technology is ready, so we might as well make the most of it.”

Are you taking the steps necessary to make your supply chain self-driven by 2030? Find out how we can help you.

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