The Dawn of the Digital Supply Chain

3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), increased mobility, and connectivity are already influencing today's manufacturing strategies.

A recent Supply Chain Insights report found that 15% of the 101 surveyed respondents have a digital manufacturing strategy, which includes the use of digital images, 3D printing, IOT and mobility to refine and improve manufacturing processes. Additionally 16% of those in a process industry use mobility in their owned and operated manufacturing plants, and 16% of those in a discrete industry, where parts are made to order, are using 3D printing for production-based processes, particularly prototyping

But, what kinds of digital supply chain processes are being put in place to support these manufacturing changes?

It appears there is a noticeable gap.

“The gap between what we have today and what it could be is large. We live in a digital age in our personal lives; however, this is not the case in our supply chains. Supply chain leaders express rising frustration about the gap of what they see as possible in the digital age, and what they experience in their day-to-day world in their offices,” Lora Cecere, founder and CEO at Supply Chain Insights wrote in the report.

Some of the gaps stem from a clash of processes and technologies, she noted. For example, digital business flows are real-time and move in a outside-in way, whereas traditional supply chain processes rely on historic transactions and have a more inside-out approach.

These gaps are more clearly seen when describing supply chain data latency, technology and response, according to Supply Chain Insights. Traditional supply chain processes tend to be characterized by data latency of hours, days and weeks; software project deployments rely on licensed software solutions, and responses are based on previous historical interactions. Digital supply chain processes, however, provide real-time data; employ cloud-based solutions that can be continually adapted, and sense IoT activity and adapt in more of a cognitive learning way.

Obviously, closing the gaps between traditional ways of doing things and digitally driven supply chain performance improvement methods is becoming increasingly more important. As EFT's Supply Chain Priorities 2015 report points out, a growing number of executives believe that the Internet of Things will have “a huge impact on supply chain” and that big data will have a “significant impact on their supply chain.”

But where should a company start down the digital supply chain path?

Supply Chain Insights suggests that a good starting place is to identify disruptive technologies and potential digital processes that can “transform business outcomes with the greatest impact.”

Additionally, breaking away from the usual models of supply chain communication – spreadsheets and emails, namely – and building more automated “power B2B networks,” or Market-Driven Value Networks (MDVN) would provide better opportunities for creating a digital supply chain foundation, the firm said.

Reassessing the manufacturing strategy could help improve the digital supply chain plan, too. Although many people associate 3D printing as a core digital manufacturing strategy, it's not the only one. The cloud, predictive analytics, IoT and mobility are effecting production planning, shifting visibility levels, improving agility, and creating new product markets. Examine the digital cross-functionality between the manufacturing and supply chain and how supply chain practices could be an engine for digital concepts.

What are you doing to create a digital supply chain?

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