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Companies turn to disruptive tech to remake supply chains for sustainability & other benefits

Nov. 26, 2018
Robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced materials and 3D printing play growing role

For many millennials, concern for the planet, climate and sustainability has never been a radical idea, but one rooted in the mainstream. In 1990, millennials were even given a superhero, Captain Planet, who fended off environmental disasters. The cartoon’s values rang true in a recent report from the Brookings Institute. It found that millennials collectively applaud the values of good citizenship, and some 89% say they would buy from companies that supported solutions to social issues. Targeting this group of more than 75 million people in the U.S. alone is one reason that consumer goods manufacturers and retailers are remaking their supply chains for sustainability. Operational cost is another reason. Energy, water and waste are expensive to manage and companies that limit their use, and in the case of waste, accumulation, can lower costs.

Walmart, Amazon and Unilever all recently announced ambitious plans to eliminate waste from their supply chains. Levi Strauss committed to slash greenhouse gases from its global supply chain by 2025. 

IoT, AI help remake supply chains

From robotics to the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, disruptive technologies are helping companies to remake their integrated supply chains to be more sustainable and more efficient. Tech leaders in food service, hospitality & retail – are investing to improve things like personalization and communication and see a time when artificial intelligence will play a critical role in their business. These industries and others are adopting 10 leading disruptive technologies expected to generate trillions in economic value in the decade ahead.

Panasonic is deeply engaged in these technologies. We believe that connecting them into integrated ecosystems is essential to creating entirely new user experiences. To understand the role, they play in other organizations, Panasonic Corporation of North America commissioned a new research series, Moving Forward, on how disruptive technologies are impacting businesses—and entire industries.

Manufacturers target robotics, advanced materials and 3-D printing

The first report in our series detailed reasons that tech leaders are adopting these technologies and asked about their future plans. Mobile devices, apps & commerce and the cloud are the most commonly adopted disruptive technologies across the supply chain, particularly within the customer-facing food service, hospitality & retail industries (90% adoption of mobile, 84% for the cloud). Similarly, adoption of the Internet of Things and renewable energy was high in these industries. Almost half of the companies in our study have already invested in renewable energy technologies—and almost three in five intend to do so in the near future.

But decision makers in Integrated Supply Chain businesses also have industry-specific priorities:

  • Manufacturing companies are particularly interested in robotics, advanced materials, 3-D printing and process automation, which have the potential to impact both product and systems.
  • Food service, hospitality & retail firms are especially bullish on artificial intelligence (AI), which can help them better understand the needs and behavior of their customers.
  • And two in five logistics companies intend to adopt autonomous vehicles in the near future—by far the most of any industry surveyed.

From renewable energy to AI and robotics, all have potential to help companies improve the sustainability of their supply chains.

Successful management of supply chains have played a pivotal role in the globe’s leading brands. In 1948, restauranteurs Maurice and Richard McDonald saw their kitchen for what it truly was: an assembly line. In 1952, they purchased a new building that would both catch the eyes of passing drivers and give them the space to create a clean, extremely efficient, standardized process for preparing meals. That single innovation, some 70 years ago, continues to inform the business of quick service restaurants and fast casual food retail in important new ways.

Data driving automation

The integrated supply chain of food covers a network of vendors, manufacturing centers, warehouses, distribution centers and restaurants that raw materials move through, and are changed to meet the needs of the final consumer. The complexity of the food supply chain has grown enormously since Maurice and Richard McDonald’s day, but what remains critical is data. Data informs decisions at every successful food retail operation.

At Panasonic, data is at the heart of what we call the “connected restaurant.” This covers not just assembly line technology with conveyor belts that move food as workers prep. It’s a digital transformation that includes connecting all parts of the restaurant to provide data analytics that promote a better operation. Software ties together disparate functions, collects and interprets data and sends out alerts to quickly inform restaurant operators of things going wrong, and right, as well as repositioning staff to ensure the best customer experience.

Automation software: the key to achieving simplification

In adopting disruptive technologies, companies are collecting a lot of diverse data to inform their operations and engage with customers in both online and physical experiences, creating complexity—according to Panasonic’s own research conducted across all industries.

To achieve the level of personalized engagement they want, Integrated Supply Chain decision makers understand that they need to simplify operations and better integrate data across channels and touch points. Tech leaders say automation software that simplifies processes is the area where they’d benefit most from innovation.

Four in five companies see very strong benefits from automation software that simplifies processes. These companies view automation as key to tackling many day-to-day frustrations including manual data entry that is prone to human error and backlog; lack of streamlined communication between owners of various parts of the order life cycle; goods delivered late or to the wrong place; management information systems not in sync.

Competitive imperative

Finally, we found that a majority of companies surveyed agree that embracing disruptive technologies is essential to remaining competitive today.

Many of these organizations realize they need a strategic partner to get the most out of disruptive technologies. With experience incorporating them all into integrated business solutions, Panasonic may be the ideal partner in helping you embed these technologies in ways that can move your organization forward.

Learn more about how and when senior decision makers adopt these innovative technologies by downloading our Integrated Supply Chain study.

Author: M. Faisal Pandit - Sr. Vice President & Chief Digital Officer, Panasonic System Solutions Company of America

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