Posts in Category: Efficiency

A future without supply chain workers?

Lately I’ve had quite a few chats with folk in the industry. Is there a future without supply chain workers? Would that be so bad?

The work itself is often repetitive and dangerous (think of all the heavy equipment and significant inertia). Getting people out of the ‘movement’ part of the supply chain might be quite a good idea. Accidents and deaths should decrease, leaving happier families.

Where are we at?

Ports – the containers themselves are regularly shaped and sized. The environment can be tightly controlled and planned. A great candidate for automation. 

Mines – certain activities are very repetitive and in tightly controlled environments. This includes the repetitive cycles for certain vehicles. Those in underground environments can be relatively easily designed to work without human intervention, moving through the tunnels.

Warehouses – quite a bit more difficult. Yes, things are repetitive, but the environments are less-tightly controlled, and the products themselves often vary in size, bulk, and fragility. Lots of automation can be used to aid humans working in this environment. Some firms manage to standardize much of the packaging. Yet, at present, there still seems to be a large role for employees in these environments.

Manufacturing – this depends on the nature of the products and workplaces. I’ve seen many facilities that are absolutely chaotic, where automation would fail and would never be considered. Some products are inherently difficult for robots to manage (think about flexible pips or tubing, flopping around), making the work suitable for human worker with a little training.

So – many materials handling jobs can be replaced with technology. Those jobs that involve irregular working environments or irregular products are less amenable to displacement. Thus, work involving a variety of external conditions (e.g., managing materials on construction sites sites) or a variety of product shapes and customer-facing roles (e.g., courier delivery) may be safe.

What sort of role should you be looking for in supply chain management? Where do you want to be in the future? I suggest that there are some types of jobs that you should be careful about as you may find – at some point in the future – that the job disappears out from under you!

Research: See the whole supply chain and mark efficiently

How did YOU learn about the complex, interconnected nature of decisions made in supply chains? We often don’t see the impact of a decision we make – the repercussions may be felt months later by some poor worker on the other side of the world. Stuck with the same problem, we’ve been working on improving our presentation and visualisation of supply chains to students. Our research team has, in the past, constructed several simulated components that we hope to be able to combine, with further information overlaid, in a series of structured lessons. In a nutshell – shrinking a supply chain down into a still relatively-realistically represented, simulated, supply chain. And then there’s no end to the ways that you could use this in university or vocational training.
Universities are pushed to improve their efficiency and effectiveness of operations (at least, we have been told so; our experience with burgeoning administration and bureaucracy makes us wonder about this!). Doing our bit – we’ve been working on evaluating different marking and feedback support systems. Hypothesis – using cool technology will help us to do the same job, faster! Well, that’s what we thought, that’s what I perceived during the project, but … what is the data showing us? I have a conference paper with the first set of data will be submitted tomorrow; other data that will help us evaluate is still being collected. (Thanks to Ashley for her help administering the survey.) In any case – this is why we do research, ’cause things aren’t always as they seem …. 🙂