By MMH Staff · January 19, 2022

As part of its look at supply chain technology trends, analyst company Gartner is predicting a significant amount of supply chain decisions will soon be processed via “edge” technologies rather than in traditional, centralized enterprise applications, as well as rapid adoption of smart robots for warehouse operations among large enterprises.

Driven by evolving data communications networks, including 5G, Gartner predicts that 25% of supply chain decisions will be made across intelligent edge ecosystems through 2025.

“Historically, digital supply chain investments prioritized large-scale, centralized applications in domains such as manufacturing and logistics,” said Andrew Stevens, senior director analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain Practice. “Edges are physical locations where things, people, and data connect. Increasingly, supply chains are becoming more dynamic and cover larger networks where data and decisions originate at the edge – from operators, machines, sensors or devices.”

Edge ecosystems transform operations by allowing decision making close to the original source of information. Enabling data processing, communications and storage at the point of data capture creates more even workflows, distributes data capacity and streamlines real-time responses to stakeholders who need to make decisions, according to Gartner.

Advances in data communications services, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 5G, are poised to support edge ecosystems and complement traditional centralized supply chain solutions with more virtualized and remote networks processing data. Across many supply chains, edge computing decision making is already occurring, and the focus over the next three years will be to identify more use cases where connected automated and autonomous networks of edge decisions can be further enabled, Gartner explained.

Logistics operations have developed a growing thirst for flexible automation, noted Gartner, which predicts that 75% of large enterprises will have adopted some form of intralogistics smart robots in their warehouse operations by 2026. Smart intralogistics robots are specialized forms of cyber-physical robotic automation primarily aimed at warehouse and distribution center environments, Gartner added.

“Labor availability constraints, rapidly rising labor rates and the residual impacts of COVID-19 will compel most companies to invest in cyber-physical systems, especially intralogistics smart robots,” said Dwight Klappich, vice president analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice.

These solutions address the need to automate certain processes by adding intelligence, guidance, and sensory awareness, allowing them to operate independently from and/or around humans, Gartner explained. There are many flexible robots use cases such as transporting pallets of goods, delivering goods to a person or picking individual items. They can more readily and inexpensively be implemented, and can be easily scaled to better manage extremes in peaks and troughs of demand. Because of the adaptive nature of intralogistics smart robots, Gartner added, companies can pilot use cases for low, upfront investment and continue to test new and varying use cases as they become more familiar with the technologies.

“The good news is that there are already many flexible robotics use cases, and it is important to evaluate the best fits to an organization’s specific needs. Supply chain leaders should take full advantage of growing trends in robotics by creating an organization led by a chief robotics officer, or equivalent role, within their organization,” Klappich concluded.