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ASCM Insights

Exciting Ways AI Is Advancing Supply Chains

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Artificial intelligence (AI) has come quite a long way since 1950 — the year when computer scientists made some of the most significant advances in the field. This was when Alan Turing published “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which considers consciousness, intellect and the ability of machines to think as humans do. Of course, today we have Alexa and Siri recommending everything from recipes to workouts, Spotify and Hulu personalizing entertainment options, driver-assistance tech and Waze keeping us safer and more efficient on the roads, and so much more.

We also have AI applications in all sorts of business operations, helping people get more done in a day and enjoy more fulfilling assignments, while enabling companies to address ongoing labor challenges. At fast-food chain White Castle, Flippy 2 will flip burgers and cook fries at more than 100 locations by the end of the year. Chipotle Mexican Grill is testing out Chippy, a robot that prepares and seasons tortilla chips. Panera Bread is leveraging a robotic coffee management system to monitor temperature and volume, then alert staff when a new batch is needed. In Japan and Singapore, robotic coffee stands accept orders via a screen, prepare the beverages and clean up spills. Even on the high seas, Royal Caribbean is using automated bartenders to shake, stir and mix a nearly endless list of cocktails.

Likewise, robots have been hard at work in factory, warehouse and delivery environments for years. Uses include moving products and materials around facilities, assembly, picking, processing goods for retail sale, and delivering packages. AI platforms help companies track the most efficient travel routes for logistics operations to reduce emissions. Robots that take on repetitive manual tasks can prevent humans from doing strenuous or dangerous activities. AI also promotes safety from inside truck cabs by delivering prompts that help coach drivers on safer driving behavior. One company in Iowa that uses such technology credits it with keeping its turnover rate to a low 15%, five times below the U.S. industry average

AI also can support higher-level supply chain planning functions. For instance, denim clothing company Levi Strauss launched an AI-based platform to streamline e-commerce fulfillment by helping consumers find the best option for them, whether that's picking up a product at a store or opting for a different item that can be shipped from a nearby distribution center. The solution also optimizes the packaging and shipping processes to reduce the number of split orders and plan for the labor needed to support order fulfillment. 

Learn more so you can do more

Amazing things happen when machines learn, but the outcomes are even more remarkable when people gain essential education, discover new perspectives and insights, and explore the latest trends. Moreover, as technology becomes more pervasive, companies must invest in their employees’ knowledge in order to maximize the opportunities made possible by their investment. A competent, capable workforce that knows how to leverage the latest solutions is a winning formula.

The upcoming ASCM CONNECT Annual Conference will delve into not only AI, but also digital transformation, industry 5.0, dynamic fulfillment and so much more. Educational sessions will be presented by experts from companies including Caterpillar, Colgate-Palmolive, Deloitte, Microsoft, and UScellular, among many others. Don’t miss the supply chain event of the year and this invaluable opportunity to keep learning. Register today.

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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