The global logistics business continues to boom in parallel to the growth of e-commerce. More and more companies now have logistics and supply chain strategies to adapt and thrive in the “new normal” brought by the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 is not the sole reason for the boom in logistics but is certainly one of the major catalysts.
Industry insiders say another indicator of the boom in logistics is the increase in logistics-related investments. How huge? Investments in the logistics sector are at an all-time high, reaching 39 billion euros in 2020, a figure that is most certainly higher in 2022.
As an example, it is said that every 1 billion euros of sales in e-commerce require 35,000 square meters of space. By 2025, it is projected that the demand for real estate space will double. In Europe alone, 26 million square meters of space are being used for e-commerce.
Warehousing and logistics go hand-in-hand. Warehousing is often defined as the storing, handling, managing, processing, and distribution of goods in a facility or a warehouse. Warehousing solutions involve asset management systems, inventory tracking, workload distribution, and shipping, among others.
Logistics, on the other hand, is generally defined as the process of managing how resources are acquired, stored, and transported to their final destination. Logistics also involves managing multiple distributors and suppliers in the hopes of achieving efficiency.
Looking at the definition, we can see that logistics companies cannot just stand still, but should instead be ready to adjust and adapt to remain competitive.
In this piece, we look at the latest trends and technology tools in global logistics and cite examples of how companies are using these technologies.
Tech tools in logistics
There are a lot of technology tools being used in the global logistics business, and thankfully, these nifty tools can be mixed and matched depending on the business requirements. These tools can be used on their own, but most logistics companies nowadays find it more useful and cost-effective to “customize” their tools to match their requirements.
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many logistics companies already have some form of automation tools and solutions to increase efficiency. However, in 2020 and 2021, the need for automation has increased exponentially, as companies scramble to find ways to minimize face-to-face interactions.
Automation tools have been in use in distribution centers or warehouses. In most cases, logistics automation will include using technology for processes such as scanning using barcodes for sorting, packing, and getting information on delivery and shipping.
A fairly recent report said that four-fifths of the world’s warehouses are still running manually, thus, the potential for automation in logistics remains huge.
In more complex scenarios, robotics is used to replace most manual processes. Robots have been used in many industries, particularly those needing repetitive work, such as assembly lines. Robots often take the place of humans, particularly in processes that can be very dangerous.
In logistics, many companies are expected to eventually use robots for various processes such as picking, packing, sorting, and even trailer loading, among others.
We often associate blockchain technology with cryptocurrency, but the technology is also now being used extensively by logistics firms. Blockchain is a computing technology that records information and transactions through digital ledgers. These ledgers are distributed across the entire network of computers, and thus can be very difficult to change, hack, or alter.
This same blockchain technology is now being used to improve customer service by providing customers the capability to track the entire journey of their orders in the supply chain. Blockchain also allows companies to make audits more transparent while improving the security of transactions. A secure solution powered by blockchain can also minimize manual paperwork. Thus, logistics companies can be more efficient, without compromising security.
For many years now, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have been playing very significant roles in the logistics and supply chain industries across the globe.
As e-commerce continues to grow, we can only imagine the amount of data flowing through the whole supply chain. Thus, more complex software solutions are necessary to handle this massive influx of data. This is where AI and machine learning comes in.
AI is used to analyze data so that logistics firms can make the necessary adjustments or even changes. AI and machine learning can be used to monitor every link within the supply chain. With this technology, decision-making and planning become easier and human error can be reduced.
AI can be used to handle “big data” and can analyze logistics-related concerns such as last-mile logistics analysis and optimization, the selection of suppliers, and workforce planning. AI is indeed a valuable tool that can help resolve some of the most complex issues when it comes to logistics.
The predictive capabilities of AI are now also gaining attention. “Predictive” means logistics companies may be able to have valuable insights on product selection, warehouse management, etc.
Internet of Things
In the last few years, the Internet of Things or “IoT” has become a buzzword for businesses across all industries or sectors. Its practical applications are seen as almost limitless. IoT has sensors that can be attached to almost anything from cars and trucks to home appliances, among many, many others. These sensors are far from “ordinary” as they are connected to the Internet and connected among themselves. Being “connected” means these sensors can exchange information using the internet (thus “internet-of-things”) via communication networks.
These sensors can also form a massive network of connected objects and can be managed through computer software.
For logistics firms, IoT can be used to monitor, track, manage, etc. almost all elements of the supply chain and logistics. These will include goods; packaging such as boxes and containers; transportation hubs and warehouses; and various vehicles. IoT can provide data that can be valuable to manage assets remotely.
Partnered with AI, IoT can even predict risks, ensure proper cargo handling, and can forecast traffic congestions in real-time. IoT, combined with blockchain, may allow logistics firms to have end-to-end visibility of the whole delivery process.
Advances in transportation
Advances in transportation technologies often referred to as “transportation management systems” or TMS, involve using computer technology to organize and manage the transportation side of the supply chain.
Logistics companies use TMS to track delivery vans, trucks, cars, etc., and drivers in real-time. Efficiency in transportation often results in lower freight expenses, increased transparency, and overall improvement in customer satisfaction.
Transportation technologies can often be classified under IoT, but deserves special mention because of the rapid transformation of this critical sector. For the logistics sector, transportation improvements all aim to increase speed and efficiency to keep the smooth flow of the supply chain. Transportation also plays the most critical part in “last-mile” delivery.
According to a report, last-mile delivery accounts for more than 50 percent of all transportation costs. Last-mile may include long-haul journeys to doorstep delivery.
One technology that is now being closer to mainstream popularity is autonomous driving, or to laymanize “driverless vehicles.”
Autonomous technologies can aid in long journeys. and a human-autonomous vehicle combo is seen as a viable solution to increase efficiency. Not just lorries, vans, trucks, and cars, autonomous technology can also be used for forklifts, pallet stackers, and other types of machinery used in the warehouse and logistics.
It is often envisioned that self-driving cars will soon be widely used, the same way that drones are now being used in some countries to make that delivery.
There are a lot more nifty technology tools that are currently in use or development for the logistics industry. But the above-mentioned are generally the most widely used.
Trends in logistics
Now that we’ve seen some of the technologies or solutions used in logistics, let’s take a look at trends in logistics that we might see in the near future.
“Augmented reality” is often defined as “an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory, and olfactory.” The most popular, by far, are smart glasses with heads up displays that allow a user to “interact” with real-world objects. Augmented reality or AR has many practical applications, particularly for logistics.
A recent report said shipments of smart glasses for logistics are expected to grow to more than $4 billion in the next few years. AR glasses, with heads-up glasses, allow a user to “read” bar codes and store information on warehouses without touching the items. Aside from physical distancing, the user may no longer need to physically sort items, and can just use smart glasses to complete the process.
A rising trend in logistics is the actual manufacture or production of sought-after and fairly common items. The scenario is this: companies no longer need to order or ship items through long-distance transport, and they can just “create” these items.
The upside is huge, particularly for after-market parts. Logistics companies can become production hubs. The signs are encouraging, with an industry report saying that 3D printing in the logistics sector will be worth more than $500 billion by 2025.
Currently, half of logistics providers are already using “cloud” computing services. If we can simplify, “cloud” means remote storage and management of data and software applications through the internet, instead of a computer or a server that is physically inside a logistics firm. It is said that in a few years, more than 70 percent of logistics companies will be on the cloud.
What does the cloud offer? For a logistics company, being able to pull out software or solution in real-time and on-demand can increase efficiency and reduce costs. Logistics companies can retrieve information or data on-demand with a high degree of security through the cloud. Cloud computing promises that data can be retrieved any time, anywhere as long as a company has an online connection.
Cloud computing is one of the most established technologies yet until now many logistics companies are finding more uses and discovering more advantages if they take their data to the cloud. One example of this is how LOCAD has built the logistics cloud for e-commerce businesses which provides end-to-end fulfillment service to brands from warehousing, picking and packing, all the way to shipping.
Adjust and adapt
Technology has become very important for all industries. The COVID-19 pandemic was a major catalyst that pushed and compelled many industries, including logistics, to find ways to adjust and adapt as business needs also change.
Logistics companies need to continue to be able to embrace the latest in technology to remain competitive. Customers, too, are rapidly changing and becoming more technology-savvy, all the more reason that logistics companies use technology to keep up with changing times and demands.