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ASCM Insights

AI Continues to Inspire Innovation in Supply Chain

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The ChatGPT panic seems to be dying down, and people are adjusting their perspectives about how artificial intelligence (AI) is actually affecting our world. So, it’s a great time to revisit AI in supply chain — especially how it can make our networks safer and greener.

This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that an Amazon warehouse in New Jersey is using AI to help prevent injuries: Instead of having workers walk to individual shelves to collect goods for shipping, in this warehouse, the shelves move to them. “The design, which uses AI and sensors, is meant to promote a mix of efficiency, ergonomics and safety, with the thinking that it is ultimately better to have shelving units, rather than employees, scurrying around its cavernous facilities,” the story explains.

Though employing robots as pickers is a fairly common practice, this movable shelf approach is novel. The chief technologist at Amazon Robotics compared the design to mingling with workers as though “navigating a cocktail party.” In fact, the AI-powered robots have helped reduce the lost-time injury rate by 69% from 2019 to 2022.

Meanwhile, logistics company Propak is using AI surveillance to catalog near misses between forklift drivers and other employees. The tool also recommends ways to improve working conditions — such as by redesigning a process to avoid excessive bending and lifting — or marking floors and adding mirrors to prevent collisions.

Outside the warehouse, software company Modeshift is leveraging AI to make public transportation more efficient. Instead of using predetermined routes, the solution chooses routes based on current demand. This helps ensure public transit is optimized to serve the greatest number of passengers and for maximum fuel efficiency. Google, too, is using AI to address climate change. The tech company is currently working on a project to reduce airplane contrails, which account for roughly 35% of aviation’s global warming impact.

Crate & Barrel Holdings Inc. is also employing AI to increase facility efficiencies and optimize inventory for quicker customer deliveries and a smaller carbon footprint. And though sustainability is a worthwhile goal, it’s not the only use the retailer is finding for AI: A new universal app among its brands is designed to create a “personalized, premium and seamless customer experience” and enhance automation across channels to provide better and more customized offerings.

Excited for the next big thing

All of us at ASCM are abuzz with conference anticipation. The team will be heading to Louisville, Kentucky, in just a few days for ASCM CONNECT 2023: North America, where tons of top-notch education awaits. AI will be a focal point, with a keynote from MIT’s Yossi Sheffi, Ph.D., about “The 5th Industrial Revolution: Why Human and AI Collaboration is the Future.” Plus, educational sessions will explore using AI to drive customer trust, separating AI fact from fiction and much more.

The conversations are sure to be fast-moving, just like the technology itself. But don’t worry if you happen to miss something or are unable to attend this year; our “CONNECT Top 5” download will share key takeaways each day of the event. Keep an eye out for the newsletter, which will arrive directly in your inbox — no robots involved.

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), the largest organization for supply chain and the global pacesetter of organizational transformation, talent development and supply chain innovation. During his tenure, ASCM has significantly expanded its services to corporations, individuals and communities. Its revenue has more than doubled, and the association successfully completed three mergers in response to both heightened industry awareness and the vast and ongoing global impact driven by supply chains. Previously, Eshkenazi was the managing director of the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. He may be contacted at abe@ascm.org.

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