Where next for the automation revolution?
The increasing automation of the supply chain has become a major talking point in recent years as technology continues to play a pivotal role in the way operations are run. The buzz is easy to understand - automation enables businesses to address the need to scale their operations without having to add to their workforce, with a more streamlined, flexible and efficient operation that drastically reduces errors.
Although it continues to dominate headlines today, the supply chain technology revolution actually started in the early 1980s with the advent of powerful computing models in MRP and MRP II. This later evolved into the next generation supply chain software that helped bring in advanced planning and optimisation capabilities as well as strong functional automation of warehouses and factories. The equation has been shifting ever since then, with newer technology becoming more affordable, the cost benefits of tool driven automation became extremely attractive and application of smart tools came to be realised as a critical competitive advantage.
Many geo-political events and technology breakthroughs have contributed to this trend. The oil crisis of the 70’s triggered multiple innovations in cost reduction and efficiency, and the opening up of China and the Far East in the 80s made the making and selling of products across different continents not only possible, but cost effective. The end of the Cold-War and increase in globalisation led to rampant consumerism in the 90s - driving product proliferation, miniaturisation and reduction of life cycles, digitisation of information exchange , and increasingly stringent statutory requirements for safety and ethical practices.
The forces of globalisation have continued to drive newer themes which dominate the agenda today, such as the globalised supply chain, cost and profitability improvement, value chain integration, integrated planning and optimisation, global supply chain analytics and more. Technology has helped shape business evolution at each step.
Sandeep Kumar, Vice President at ITC Infotech and Head of the Business Consulting Group.
In essence, what we see today is the supply chain being more and more digitalised and therefore more intelligent. By setting up a centralised supply chain analytics centre, for instance, businesses can benefit from processes like demand forecasting, replenishment planning, inventory analytics and sales and operations planning support in a shared services model. In this way, they can extend the benefits of standardised processes and analytics across multiple business divisions without having to increase human resources.
The impact of growing automation in supply chains has been widespread across industries. Among those most affected by transformation in supply chains are high tech OEMs and consumer electronics OEMs. These are largely sectors where cost efficiencies are paramount and technology adaptation is helping to lower the cost of product operations, and this demand has made them the pioneers in adopting new advanced capabilities that disrupt the supply chain models.
In these sectors, functions such as designing, sourcing and distribution have gone through transformational change. Companies like Cisco, for example, operate a business model that uses technology as a powerful integrator of supply chains. The automotive, aerospace and industrial manufacturing industries have also undergone similar transformation.
In addition, the CPG, fashion apparel and retail industries are good examples of how global supply chain models bring together raw materials and ingredients from across the world, before products are manufactured and then distributed to global markets. Wal-Mart’s Retail Link, for instance is a great case of how a retailer manages its huge supplier base through a supply chain Information portal.
This evolution does not come without challenges. In this case, the challenge lies primarily in staying ahead of the curve. Early adopters of supply chain risk management like Cisco and Ericsson, for example, have been pushed into investing in such capabilities based on environmental factors putting their supply chains at risk. Wal-Mart and Lego are other examples where supply chain sustainability and codes of conduct are being put in place as a consequence of management not being live to bad supplier practices.
Another concern has been the decreasing relevance of human labour in the face of growing automation. Although, it is clear that this transformation does impact manual work content by changing the way certain tasks are performed, arguing that it subsequently leads to the removal of people from supply chains would be quite an overstatement.
What however needs to be reinstated is that despite the rapid technological developments, humans have always and will continue to be the drivers of these processes. Even though specific roles will keep changing, supply chains will continue to depend on technology-savvy people. Supply chain technology is moving human tasks from more repetitive data entry and crunching tasks to more intelligent supply chain decision making, enabled by smart data and technology support.
This is an interesting time for supply chains as a series of innovations and technological shifts such as mobility and the rise of digital commerce will drive further change in the coming years. Supply chain risk management, sustainability, global integrated planning capabilities, and the use of instrumented intelligence are becoming key areas of interest that will help increase in-process visibility and enable the quicker business turn around on key operations. Fast-paced change in this area means there is plenty of space for players to claim the “pioneer status”. Businesses that want to succeed and reap the benefits of supply chain automation need to be forward-looking and brave enough to take the extra step ahead of their competitors.
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.