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Driving Change in Manufacturing & Logistics: Autonomous Machines

Driving Change in Manufacturing & Logistics: Autonomous Machines

It seems today that every major automotive company is focused on developing autonomous vehicles. From Uber working to develop a fleet of driverless taxis to automakers like Toyota and Mercedes leaking plans for their own autonomous cars, the world has gone crazy over driverless vehicles.

Autonomy in Manufacturing
But there’s a lot more to the autonomous industry than just cars. Particularly in commercial spaces, autonomous machines have the ability to change the entire industry. Automated guided vehicles, autonomous mobile robots and robotic arms (to name a few) already play a large part in delivering parts to assembly lines, receiving product, picking, packing, scanning and configuration. This allows manufacturers and suppliers to streamline processes, improve productivity and ensure a better product for customers.

One of the hottest applications at the moment is additive manufacturing – better known as 3D printing. Now that its promise is starting to be realized, additive manufacturing will transform the supply chain from end to end. As Supply & Demand Chain Executive has reported on, by allowing for parts to be manufactured just by hitting “print,” 3D printing allows warehouses to carry fewer inventories, meaning they are able to occupy less space and operate at a lower cost. Additionally, because replacement parts can be printed on-site, it reduces bottlenecks and production delays caused by running out of a specific part. This will also have a major impact on the global supply chain. By eliminating the need for businesses to consider the most cost efficient place to manufacture an item, businesses can focus on location, allowing supply chains to become shorter as production moves to key markets.

Additive manufacturing also provides some very thought provoking questions, such as: what if we put a 3D printer on the back of a truck and produce good on the way to the customer, is this manufacturing or is it logistics or is it something else? Are the materials used in the 3D printing process raw materials or finished goods? How to you apply standard costs and pricing to 3D printed goods? What is the warranty provision on 3D printed products? These are all great questions and we’re looking forward to helping our clients and the wider industry answer these and more.

Shortening the End-to-End Supply Chain
Outside the factory, autonomous machines have the ability to transform the delivery process. We’ve all the trials of Amazon using drones to get product to your doorstep faster, but the possibilities don’t stop there. Commercial vehicle automation is the next big frontier. In addition to driverless cars for personal use, automakers are working to develop fleets of driverless trucks to handle everything from long-haul transporting of goods to package deliveries. In fact, the autonomous commercial deliveries have already started – in October 2016, Uber ATG (previously known as Otto) made the first commercial autonomous delivery, delivering 50,000 cans of Budweiser beer. This is a huge an important step in the industry and one of those exception use cases where previously consumer led technology has jumped across to the commercial world.

As autonomous machines take over the world, brands will need to stay up-to-date on the most recent technologies available to them at all points in their supply chain, or risk falling behind. At ModusLink, we can help you to stay on top of what’s available, and what’s next. For more information, check out our warehousing and distribution solutions.

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