The Autonomous Supply Chain is Coming

The Autonomous Supply Chain is Coming

Ahead of the 16th Global Forum taking place September 24-28, 2018 in Philadelphia, PA, we sat down with keynote speaker Tom Bonkenburg, Director, European Operations, St. Onge Company.  Below is a preview of the interview:

How is Robotics impacting the supply chain sector?

"Since their beginning, robots have always lived in the ‘make’ side of the supply chain. Robots are very good at precisely repeating the same tasks hour after hour with high quality. This is a good fit for manufacturing where exacting precision is often an important requirement and robots are used to improve quality while reducing the cost of labor.

"The challenges typically found in the ‘deliver’ side, however, often require flexibility rather than exacting precision and the traditional manufacturing robots have not been a good fit. We now see new robotic concepts being developed that are about to enter the distribution arena allowing organizations to improve quality and reduce labor in the customer facing half of the supply chain. I find this an exciting development that will change the way we design our supply chains of the future."

What are the top two challenges companies face when it comes to adopting these new automated technologies?

"One of the main challenges that I see companies facing is their outlook on capital spending and ROI. Many corporations require a payback of 3 years or less for new projects and this often makes it difficult to implement automated technologies. I see this changing, however, as businesses are having trouble finding quality labor and now view automation as a longer term strategic investment. In addition to this shift in thinking, newer technologies coming onto the market will be more flexible in their finance models allowing operations to lease rather than buy robots or move them from site to site as needed to help keep capital spending lower than it has been in the past.

 A second challenge is that what works well in one industry does not always work in another. Every supply chain and every distribution center is different. Just because a technology works for Amazon does not mean it will work for you. Very often the CSuite does not understand this and tries to push in a technology direction that is not a good fit for them. Really understanding how the needs of your particular supply chain maps against available technology is key to making a good decision and getting buy in from the entire organization."

How do you see robotics transforming the pharma supply chain industry over the next 10-15 years? 

I try to never predict what will happen by a specific date in time because we have been disappointed by technology projections in the past. In my opinion, however, the current trends will eventually lead to automation allowing smaller DCs to be productive throughout the day and night, faster service to customers, lower inventory levels, and an overall reduction in cost. Automation will continue to shape the supply chain and changes seem to come faster and faster every year.

Download the full Report to read the full discussion with Tom as he discusses:

  • How robotics are impacting the the pharma supply chain sector specifically
  • Common barriers to automation adoption and how to overcome them
  • What life sciences supply chain leaders need to do today to prepare for a future of increased automation

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