Is artificial intelligence the key to resilient supply chains?
For too many years, the world’s supply chains have operated solely on learnings from the past. But through artificial intelligence (AI), we can start thinking ahead of our time.
The latest AI news has certainly divided people across society and industries – and supply chains have been no exception. Yet after years of infrastructural instability, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge this technology.
Over the years, the custom of exchanging goods and ideas has blossomed thanks to an ever-evolving supply chain network. Where countries were once siloed, they are now connected through a complex map of transport routes that span the globe. But this outdated model was showing signs of reaching its limits as the 21st century kicked in. The multitudes of paperwork required to manually process every shipment provided no visibility as to where goods were, which didn’t help businesses with growing customer needs. With the COVID-19 pandemic finally exposing the sector’s wider fundamental weaknesses, logistics leaders soon realised that things had to change if trade was to keep up with modern life.
Now our sector is at an impasse. We can identify the infrastructural flaws that have caused so much disruption: Customers needed greater supply chain transparency and cost-effective means of stockpiling goods to prevent future shortages. But the real question is: will this be enough?
If we are to transform our supply chains and make them truly resilient to all future disasters, from war or climate change to the next pandemic, we must develop the ability to look into the future. If we can predict every possible scenario and its impact, we can upgrade our infrastructure accordingly. And while this is obviously beyond the realms of human ability, it’s not for AI.
The Power Of Predictive Analytics
Jonathan Wray, the co-founder of the AI solution company Aible, succinctly outlined the case for AI in supply chains, saying that our current infrastructure can only react to events that have already occurred. Whilst we are learning from our mistakes, we're still not making the right changes because we’re modelling trade routes on past inefficiencies. This means we can’t truly futureproof ourselves. And while history may repeat itself sometimes, it doesn’t do so enough to inform how we shape the future of trade.
AI, however, when implemented correctly, can overcome this barrier. Its ability to learn and improve exponentially while analysing potential scenarios makes it invaluable for supply chain operators.
At our Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) in Dubai, we’re already using this to our advantage. Here, our terminal operating system, CARGOES TOS+, deploys AI to digitally track every element of our terminal, from container movements to equipment and vehicles. Over time, it has learned our daily operations and is now identifying the areas causing inefficiencies, such as the delays caused by locating and extracting containers from our storage bays. It’s also using all this data to calculate infinite potential scenarios, providing us with informed modification solutions to streamline and strengthen all our operations.
An example of this in action is our creation of BoxBay, our solar-powered, automated high-bay storage container system. Once AI showed us how much time and money was being lost to manual container storage, we developed this robotic system to stack containers higher and closer together in such a way that we can find and extract them faster too. As a result, we have eliminated 350,000 unproductive moves per year and improved our overall truck servicing time by 20%.
A New Era For Supply Chain Efficiency
The insight AI provides revolutionises supply chains in less obvious ways, too. CARGOES Rostering, for example, a new programme within our landmark AI software suite which we are trialing in Europe and Australia, could totally transform how we manage our employees.
Every time a vessel is scheduled to arrive at one of our terminals, we must deploy hundreds of staff, each with specialised skills, to process the cargo. As you can imagine, there are many factors to manage during this process: some of our employees are multiskilled labourers and can’t work for too long on the same type of project, while certain countries have different labour laws to abide by.
Until now, managing all these elements has been manual, equating to billions of dollars in HR, staffing and contractor costs. Yet through CARGOES Rostering, AI can monitor the current ways of working, the type of work we conduct and generate an algorithm to manage all these moving parts in line with all regulations.
This is huge. By optimising this complex yet fundamental aspect of our work, we can start to measure how much time people are available versus how much time people are being effectively utilised. That means we can deploy the correct people faster, give contractors greater work reliability and even create time to upskill our teams for more specialist work and expedite cargo throughput.
Embracing The Future
As you can see, AI has the power to change what’s possible for the world’s supply chains if we’re brave enough to adopt it wisely. Our sector is a complex one, and for the benefits of AI to be realised we must collaborate across borders, functions and subfunctions, from procurement and sales to inventory planning and scheduling. In other words, we must also adapt as a sector if we are to reap the full benefits of AI working.
Utilised in this fashion, this technology can enhance our work and empower our workforces to make decisions that will pay off on multiple levels, stabilising world trade for the long term and unlocking a whole lot of previously untapped potential.