Global Trade Daily
  February 18th, 2016 | Written by

Top Five Material Handling and Supply Chain Trends for 2016

The Industry is Taking on a New Shape With Innovative Technologies and Revolutionary Ideas


  • Automation allows companies to focus more on service delivery as opposed to traditional supply chain management.
  • Artificial intelligence costs less than manual labor and can achieve the functions of supply chain operations.
  • With supply chains being revamped by technological solutions, human personnel can focus on customer service.

The material handling and supply chain industry is dynamic. Each day and each year, the industry has taken on a new shape and form with innovative technologies and revolutionary ideas emerging at the forefront. There are many trends evolving within the industry, including automation, artificial intelligence, ecommerce, that continue to transform and revamp operations on both an individual and organizational, as well as a global level.

Here are the top five trends currently influencing and impacting the trade:

Automation. Supply chain management has become streamlined. In fact, software such as SAP has achieved near full automation to allow companies to focus more on service delivery as opposed to traditional supply chain management. Lean manufacturing or Six Sigma methodologies have also been integrated in to the industry, further calling for process improvement and full automation. These terms have become household names and administrators are being trained in these concepts more and more each day.

Artificial intelligence. Robots have been pushed to the forefront in many warehouse and production floors. Although it’s something dreamed up from science fiction, we have seen robotics emerge particularly in some commercial giants, including Amazon. Artificial intelligence costs less than a manual labor force and can achieve the functions and duties of supply chain operations seamlessly without breaks for hours upon end. Of course, with any new emergence, there sounds artificial intelligence a certain level of controversy for the exact reason just mentioned: it costs less than manual labor.

Ecommerce. Dropshipping is a new form of retail that best embodies emerging trends in supply chain management. Ecommerce used to be the simple ordering of a product or good from an online catalogue. Now, logistics, transportation and inventory is handled by digital plug-ins that tap into multiple sources and coordinate the full lifecycle of the transaction. We have seen this in both FBA and eBay, where small businesses, entrepreneurs and large conglomerates have utilized these technologies to bolster sales while reducing on operating overhead and marketing materials.

Service chains. The industry has been driven to focus on service chains. With this, fancy terms such as CSAT or customer satisfaction, FCR or first call resolution, and average handle time come into the equation. With supply chains being revamped by technological solutions, human personnel can focus on mastering the interpersonal element of business: customer service. The customer service representative position has become a hot position in recent times. CSRs embody prolific business acumen complemented by a slew of public relations talents.

Performance analytics. The emergence of key performance indicators have led the development of statistical algorithms to gauge productivity, efficiency, and quality. Predictive analytics, which are even more of a breakthrough, can be utilized for data mining as a way to predict the future, along with other proven techniques. While not fully abandoning the concept of forecasting, predictive analytics will draw correlations between past events and help to predict future events.

Tom Reddon is a forklift specialist and blog manager for National Forklift Exchange. He also sits on the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA) Executive Dialogue team. Connect with him via Twitter at @TomReddon.


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