This guest blog comes to us from Christina Morrison at

When we look at the top supply chain technologies to come, we see a ramped-up version of what we’ve been seeing consistently in the past five-plus years. There will be all sorts of digital innovations at play—drones, self-driving forklifts, virtual reality training! But while none of these technologies–collectively dubbed Industry 4.0–are new, we will see them used in all-new ways, with 2019 catapulting them into realms of higher accessibility

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups will finally have the chance to implement some of the long-prototyped automation equipment and connected devices that have made waves at revolutionary factories like Amazon, Audi and LEGO. From procurement to inventory management, there’s a lot to look forward to in terms of supply chain innovation this year. Here are some of the things we’re most excited to see enter the game.

       Lightning-Fast 5G—The latest iteration of cellular communications will officially roll out in April of 2019, offering speeds at as much as 1,000 times faster than its 4G predecessor. Every advancement in information speed is a noteworthy one for manufacturing, as it helps enhance high-tech systems and makes real-time, relevant results possible. 5G has the potential to improve factory efficiency by speeding up both software and—now that just about every piece of manufacturing equipment will soon be digitally connected—hardware as well. 5G is poised to be one of the biggest tech trends of 2019 in all industries, not just manufacturing.
       Do-it-All ERPs—Take a look at some of the top manufacturing software out there and review see mind-blowing solutions for data tracking, management, facility optimization and beyond, and it’s only going to get better. This year, we’ll see enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions that revolutionize the way manufacturers produce, manage and fulfill, with core functions becoming automated. Companies will rapidly migrate to the cloud for lighter, more flexible solutions while leveraging their software to build out detailed analytics. We can also look forward to many more industry-specific ERP options, more customization tools and systems that help manufacturers earn government compliance and approvals.
       All Things VR and AR—Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have the power to transform many industries, and manufacturing is not immune. From allowing remote employees to complete full-scale equipment inspections to providing staff with engaging, virtual trainings, there are so many incredible ways savvy businesses will leverage this technology this year. We can expect to see these innovations move away from the realm of gimmick and into the realm of practicality this year. For example, AR is already being used in medical manufacturing to help companies see the positions of a medical device inside a person’s body. This is just one awesome way AR can actually be useful to the intelligent entrepreneur.
       Enhanced Security—Manufacturers, warehouses and distributors are tasked with a double-whammy security-wise—they must simultaneously safeguard their physical assets and protect their digital ones, or they risk reputation-damning breaches. Luckily, we’re seeing incredible new trends in both realms, helping us safeguard materials, goods and data for the long-term. Some examples include embedded, microcontroller security systems that protect through cryptography and stronger cloud security solutions to keep a facility’s data safe, even if it’s entirely cloud-based.
       (Even) More Connectivity—“Internet of Things (IoT)” is arguably the buzz phrase of the decade, but it’s not unearned. Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-connected devices are ubiquitous in both the consumer landscape and the business one, and it’s only expected to grow. Some hot new supply chain gadgets to look out for include connected manufacturing equipment, mass-market picking robots, self-driving forklifts and even an incredibly efficient and precise connected screwdriver. Looking even further into the future, we expect to see intelligent factories becoming fully connected.
       Drones Everywhere—One of the biggest hurdles in large-scale fulfillment, distribution and warehousing centers has long been magnitude. Of course, it’s not super simple (and practical) for employees or heavy machinery to retrieve fast-moving items from the very top of the rack day in and day out. That’s where drones come in. The high-flying robots can do a whole lot from above, including measuring inventory and inspecting facilities, giving manufacturers a much broader, eagle-eyed view of their business. When paired with the right software, drones impress further in applications such as creating 3D building models and more.
       Robotics Adoption—The automation of manufacturing is more like an innovation of the century rather than the year, but new robotics technologies are especially noteworthy for 2019. The biggest development in this space is that more robotics will be adopted in medium-sized facilities, with top developers making their machinery more accessible to smaller companies. In terms of innovation, we’ll see industrial robotics become more collaborative with humans and watch as they’re more reactive and flexible than ever.
       Virtual Prototyping—We tend to celebrate the tangible innovations in manufacturing, but there are so many incredible but silent revolutions in the mix. For example, Industry 4.0 will embrace digital twinning, a technology that lets engineers produce virtual prototypes that can be maintained and iterated digitally, creating a leaner product development process that works significantly faster with much less waste. This is just one example of a supply chain link that will go from physical to digital this year and in the coming years.

Prepare for Manufacturing to Be a Big Part of the Conversation

Since the advent of outsourcing and automation, manufacturing has been highly politicized. With more and more companies rolling out hyper-efficient models of production, we can almost guarantee that the debate will heat up as we brace ourselves for yet another election year. But we can’t ignore the sheer ingenuity and creativity born out of manufacturing. From this industry comes the pre-laid groundwork for many revolutionary innovations, making Industry 4.0 one of the biggest drivers of technological advancement within the global marketplace. We will continue to observe this sector to identify digital trends at large.

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