• smart cities
  • Third-Party Logistics
  • AI

Key Themes from the 3PL and Supply Chain Summit

Ryan Citron
Jul 11, 2019

Connectivity 2

Over 800 attendees gathered in Atlanta, Georgia in June 2019 to discuss the latest trends in third-party logistics (3PL) and supply chain across four focused tracks: technology, eCommerce, logistics strategy, and supply chain. The industry faces key challenges around global trade and customer expectations, which are increasing the appetite for the promised benefits of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotics.

The Ability to Be Adaptive and Use Technology Is Crucial for Industry Players

Historically, supply chain management has been somewhat static, but the ability to adapt and be nimble is more important than ever. Global developments, such as Brexit, lead some companies to reassess the vulnerability of their cross-channel supply chains. For example, the US-China trade war has led to the relocation of some manufacturing out of China (e.g., electric bicycles) and into other South Asian countries. Sourcing hardware from one country such as China can increase vulnerability and is no longer a safe business model. Suppliers need to diversify to stave off threats and uncertainties while taking more of a hands-on approach.

The need to be more adaptable also places more importance on technologies that enable greater flexibility. Using the latest technology is crucial to success in the supply chain and logistics industry—AI, predictive analytics, and machine learning are necessary, not optional tools. Logistics services companies need to become far-reaching solutions providers with enhanced technology and data analytics capabilities.

The Customer Experience Is Everything

Several speakers at the conference noted how customer experience should be pursued above all else in logistics, including operations and efficiency. Customers want an Amazon-like experience in both the business-to-business and business-to-customer segments. Carriers need to offer 1- or 2-day delivery to be competitive with Amazon, with trends pointing toward eventual same day and even 1-hour delivery services. Customers expect increased convenience, transparency, and control over their commercial goods. Companies need to offer multiple fulfillment options, personalized delivery experiences, reasonable price points, and accurate estimated time of arrivals.

Robots Are Taking Over the Warehouse

Several companies showcased innovative robotic technologies that are taking over warehouses and distribution centers across North America. Locus Robotics has deployed over 1,000 robots at a few dozen warehouses using a new business model in the field—robots as a service. For a set fee per robot per month, the bots can drastically improve warehouse efficiency (estimated two to threefold increase in productivity) and use machine learning to continually shave seconds off pick rates. Similarly, 6 River Systems, founded by former Amazon Robotics executives, develops mobile robots (though slightly larger than Locus’) that use cloud-based software, machine learning, and AI. The robot is built from same technology and sensors as automated vehicles, with a claimed payback period anywhere from 1 to 7 years, based on type of robot used. The company also claims to have designed, built, and deployed systems with over 100,000 robots in use.

Next Year’s 3PL and Supply Chain Summit: Chicago

If you missed this year’s event, logistics and supply chain leaders can help shape the future of the industry at the next 3PL and Supply Chain Summit, which will take place June 16-18, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.