Intelligent logistics solutions are applied within many time frames. Long-term planning can be supported by modelling and simulation to help to compare and visualize various options. In mid-term logistics planning and management IT software can be used to forecast production and transportation demands. In daily routines companies can use enterprise resource planning systems (ERP), special logistics software like transportation management systems (TMS), automation solutions, geographical information systems and automatic identification. Databases can be used to analyze business performance. Under are described some examples of software use cases:
- EU, nations and cities have built models on transportation infrastructure to enhance investment decisions.
- Enterprises can model and simulate supply chain network to find best locations for new distribution centers. Simulation can be used also in crane, forklift or vehicle training.
- Production line simulation shows possible bottle-necks when a new factory floor layout is planned.
- Future customer product demands can be gathered and estimated from the sales network using web based tools.
- Warehouse picking can be made more efficient using barcodes or voice-picking.
- Loading can be optimized with 3D software tools which can calculate the best positions of the cargo items.
- Data analytics can be used to evaluate vendor’s delivery accuracy.
- Traffic centers can set the maximum speed limit using led speed signs.
- In maritime traffic safety is improved with automatic identification systems by which the vessels can see on electronic map the location, direction and speed of other vessels and can avoid collision risks.
For the mobile logistics work the location and mobile technology solutions are important. Route optimization using map data, allowed delivery times, work shift calendars, load capacity information and many other factors can help to find the best driving schedules. In warehouses and trucks are used in many cases especially strong mobile terminals, called rugged devices. But, nowadays many companies tend to use also smart phones and tablets instead of quite expensive handheld devices.
Automatic identification is applied largely in logistics: barcodes, radio frequency identification (RFID) are used to identify and record movements or stock items, pallets, vehicles and workers. Machine vision and machine learning applications can help in automatic quality check of identification – one example is register plate and container number recognition in port gates.
Supply chain visibility needs developed message interfaces and web applications to enhance effective and correct information flow between business partners. Nowadays companies use lean production principles and this keeps safety stock levels low, thus material flow from suppliers must be as stable as possible. Much efforts has been put to create and agree on message standards which simplify IT systems interface building, but there is a lot to do to keep electronic interfaces reasonably cost-effective.
Logistics service providers offer to their customers multiple kind of electronic services and portals. Electronic transport orders, document handling and delivery tracking & tracing are quite general nowadays. There have been efforts to combine services from several transportation companies under common portals to enhance synergy and to avoid driving with empty loads. In public sector different kind of web based and smart phone route guides are used in bigger cities.
In the future there will be more and more robotics and automation in production and warehousing. Robots will be working beside workers in assembly lines and taking care of other suitable routines. Different kind of self-driving vehicles and drones can be used. Some batches of components or individual items can be 3D printed.
E-Commerce has changed supply chains and this trend will go on in the future. Sharing economy will change the ways we act as consumers: we can share cars, trips, delivery tasks and warehousing space. This new sharing economy can possibly reduce needs to buy new products in general level. Sustainability also requires from IT solutions ability to show carbon footprint amounts in planning phase and after the delivery of the products.
Iot (Internet of Things) can produce a lot of automatic sensor information from the whole supply chain. This information can be used notify on exceptions in delivery schedules of conditions: delivery late, temperature high, heavy shock, etc. This technology is already largely used in food delivery chain or rail wagon tracing.
Augmented reality technology can be utilized in logistics also. Picking tasks can be directed with smart glasses which reflect the next picking tasks onto the lenses of the glasses. There have been also pilot applications using virtual reality. These system can help for example in training – user wears virtual glasses and can move inside a virtual 3D warehouse to experience the environment visually.