How effective supply chain management supports advanced manufacturing

By: Chris Fenton

When the term Industry 4.0 was first announced in 2011, no one was sure exactly how the fourth industrial revolution would take shape. Now, more than a decade on and it’s clear, companies are now using everything from robotics and 3D printing to smart automation and Internet of Things technologies. As connectivity becomes even more advanced, the Industry 4.0 market is expected to explode, reaching $327.8 billion by 2030, up from $114.5 billion in value in 2021, according to IoT Insider.

While many areas are benefiting from Industry 4.0, the advanced manufacturing sector is at the heart of the digital revolution. The main beneficiaries so far have been car makers, chemical manufacturers, and aerospace and defence contractors, sectors that have implemented digital technologies to help streamline their business models and increase returns throughout their entire value chain. 

However, despite the progress Industry 4.0-related tech has made over the last decade, it’s not easy for businesses to implement new solutions. It’s expensive to integrate new tools, it can be difficult to change business processes and there can be increased production costs and high customer defect rates. 

Metro Supply Chain has long supported the advanced manufacturing industry. We work for some of the world’s leading auto companies. And, in 2021 we acquired HCL Logistics, growing our national defence logistics capabilities. We own millions of square feet of warehousing space in Canada and the U.K., operate induction centres to consolidate product as well as rail connected sites, and more. 

We understand how supply chain management can ease implementation challenges by helping businesses meet project timelines, control costs and increase collaboration. 

The need for a supply chain strategy 

Before embarking on a digital transformation, it’s important to develop a single supply chain strategy to ensure maximum collaboration between the business and its vendors. Incorporating supply chain management from the start will improve customer satisfaction, strengthen relationships, boost response times when dealing with supply chain disruptions and help you better manage quality control. 

Developing a strategy will require you to work with a company like ours, which has helped numerous businesses implement advanced manufacturing systems, and has adopted Industry 4.0 solutions itself. From using data to help predict demand to installing robots in our warehouses to improve efficiency and safety, we’ve embraced and applied many leading-edge technologies to our operations. 

Helping companies evolve 

One area we’re focusing on is Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, which is about installing and collecting intelligence at the very edge of the network. Using robotics, we can help companies manage productivity and data at the point of product storage and handling. Over time, we see an even greater opportunity to capture and analyze IoT data from other applications in warehouses and elsewhere – especially in transportation.

As more data gets collected, you’ll need skilled people to make sense of your information. While our business analytics can help you figure out what is happening and why, the real value comes from our predictive capabilities – we can see what will happen – and then offer prescriptive analysis, which will help you determine what to do about any potential issues.

Naturally, the security and management of data is becoming critical as businesses collect more information. We can help with data security and privacy, which is a must when protecting intellectual property. 

To make all of this happen, and take advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning, you need a well-planned out data architecture. Without one, capturing IoT data and generating a return on your Industry 4.0 investments become far more difficult.

Beyond IoT and data, we work with manufacturers to keep track of the many parts coming in from their local and international vendors. That includes integrating delivery schedules with production schedules, managing flow, staying on time and controlling working capital. We search through the haystack of variables to identify the potential showstoppers, those lynchpin pieces without which the whole operation grinds to a halt. 

We also offer specialized services for advanced manufacturing. We have services specifically for car and truck makers (both light and heavy), farming, construction, buses, power sports (from speedboats to scooters) and even outdoor performance equipment. We help manufacturers ensure the parts they need are available and ready to ship in a timely way and we can handle specialty materials such as lubricants and oils. 

Metro Supply Chain also operates the largest AutoStore in Canada. This robotic hive technology enhances sectors such as defence and automotive that have many SKUs and limited time, as retrieval is far quicker than traditional retrieval methods.

Moving forward to Industry 5.0

While many companies continue to invest in Industry 4.0 technologies, businesses are also starting to hear more about Industry 5.0, which, as the European Commission says, “places the wellbeing of the worker at the centre of the production process and uses new technologies to provide prosperity beyond jobs and growth while respecting the production limits of the planet.” Think of it as an add on or complement to Industry 4.0, instead of a replacement.

While Industry 5.0 is a relatively new concept, Metro Supply Chain is already taking steps to incorporate this next evolution into our processes. For instance, our AutoStore goods-to-person hive uses robots to store and retrieve but puts the control in the hands of our people to accurately pick and put away what they need in the most productive way. Conveyors, packing tables and other automations bear the heavy lifting and work alongside staff to improve productivity.

We also have autonomous mobile robots and vision-guided vehicles to efficiently move pallets where they need to go around the clock, allowing our team to focus on higher value tasks. All of this automation also makes it safer for our people to do their jobs. 

Whether it’s Industry 4.0 or 5.0 or beyond, the new industrial revolution shows no signs of slowing. With the advent of artificial intelligence, it’s possible we’ve only just scratched the surface of disruption. As supply chains become even more complex, Metro Supply Chain, which was founded almost 50 years ago and has seen its fair share of industry evolutions, can help clients navigate change. We’re using these technologies in our business and can help implement them in yours, too.