The world of technology is fast and furious and leaves nobody behind. So whether you are talking the talk you also need to walk the walk. Or even better as Walt Disney described it: “If you can dream it, you can do it!” But why do people always have to do things the hard way? Is it that we like a challenge, or are we simply focused on short-term benefits?
The world offers several free and available energy sources that represent so much power that the world’s population could double in size. Nevertheless, humanity has chosen to use energy sources that need to be extracted from deep inside the Earth, and must be processed before they can be used to provide energy. Throughout history, the development of energy sources has been a hit-and-miss process. Mineral oil for example used to be sold cheaply as a lighting product for decades before it finally became the world’s premier source of energy.
We really have no idea about the sources of energy that still exist, let alone which of them will become important in the future. A great example of how the direction of human innovation will change can be found in the development of the internal combustion engine and the growth of commercial aviation. Together they brought us growth, but they also brought problems and uncertainty. We now see that the problems with our energy supply are reaching the point where we need to find solutions by creating a new path to new energy sources. Better, we should try to use less energy to sustain our way of life.
Present innovations in the logistics market are driven by the new green principles that the world is embracing. Climate protection is one of the most pressing global challenges we are facing today. This is caused by the enormous increase in the emission of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide (CO₂) over the past few years.
This creates a new problem, which is how to evaluate innovation in these new times. Clearly, the current innovations are based on today’s market figures and refer to existing economic models that are now being used. Will we keep on growing at the same rate?Will the innovation trends determine the value of sustainable logistics in the future? Therefore, we need to reflect on innovations to common sense.
Let me start with the definition of the Supply Chain: the system of people and things that are involved in getting a product from the place, where it is made, to the person who buys it.
Companies must manufacture parts, store them, categorize them, and transport them to the appropriate location of the customer at the right time. The biggest challenge here is to what level you want to satisfy your customers when they need you the most.
So, use your imagination now for the automotive market: OEMs are going to produce basic cars, deliver them to the market, have the distributors sell the car, and then the consumer would customize it at this stage. Customization could be a personalized bumper or trim.
This would impact the supply chain because the method of customization might affect the delivery of goods as we used to deliver cars. Next to this, we will have to distribute raw material to the 3D printer studios making the parts, and new parts to the distributors to fit them. It will create a new dynamic market.
Combined with data derived from the ‘connected car’, the combination of machine learning and 3D printing has the potential to eliminate the need for replacement parts, forecasting and storage. It is now feasible for a vehicle to tell a supplier or dealer that a part requires replacement and start the printing of a certified part at a location convenient to the customer.
Also, now we have the ability to know about the customer profile as much as possible, looking at the business of Facebook and Google, we could combine this data and use Artificial Intelligence to optimize the raw material flow to the dealers as we can learn and act upon the customization needs which are out there.
Finally, let us look at the possible effect of the environmental sustainability of 3D printing in the car industry. Customizing a car’s appearance might keep the chassis and engine in circulation for longer, reducing scrap, but it might then have five different bumpers in its lifetime, increasing resource consumption. But if those bumpers and parts were designed to be recyclable, the net effect could be lower resource consumption.This sounds all very far away in the future as the current distributed manufacturing models in the automotive industry are not agile enough for this and, changing existing economic models will take many years. It looks like we have to focus on the short-term benefits again.
So, get your imagination started and start believing in what we can do with new technologies. We should not follow the predefined path of innovating with short-term benefits. Be a Hero!
Our current craftsmanship is the present, but your personality is the future.
Erik van Wunnik, Director Product Development, is combining engineering/design, program management excellence, creativity and imagination to develop the next generation of best-selling Supply Chain products in various categories for DSV Solutions, The Netherlands.