Worker in warehouse
Continued improvements in technology provide organizations with more control

Rapid technological advances are transforming the way the world does business. In no segment of the world economy is this more evident than the arena of supply chain management. Traditionally, supply chains have been managed by people using spreadsheets to track materials around the globe — but new technology makes it easier than ever to make sure the goods produced are tracked from origin point to end user with remarkable precision.

Construction business owners can benefit from employing the latest technology to streamline their supply chains and make their operations more efficient. According to recent studies, nearly 70% of businesses that use technology to provide detailed visibility into their supply chains avoid significant disruptions. Resilient supply chains mean you will know where your building materials are at all times, which will allow you to adjust schedules as necessary to keep projects moving forward.

Access to such real-time data is essential so you can make informed business decisions quickly and efficiently. The right tech stack also allows for the automation of manual processes, which frees up employees to focus on the strategic business decisions that will set you apart. Finally, technology offers opportunities to use machine learning (ML) to create predictions about where weaknesses in your supply chains may be. The insights gained can prevent projects from being derailed by supply chain difficulties.

Here are three technological advances or trends occurring right now that can revolutionize the way you conduct your construction business.

 

1. IoT Is Rapidly Improving Real-Time Supply Chain Visibility

Before discussing how the Internet of Things (IoT) is remaking the way supply chain management is done, it’s important to understand what it is and its role in knowing where your goods are at all times. IoT is simply a network of interconnected devices that communicate with each other, which allows real-time monitoring of goods as they move through the supply chain. Mission-critical data, like location, humidity, temperature, and shock and vibration, is now available in ways that were unimaginable just five years ago. This allows construction companies to manage inventory more effectively and respond rapidly to issues before they become insurmountable problems.

Additionally, IoT sensors, when integrated with the right software programs, can alert you to maintenance needs in your equipment. Downtime decreases as a result, and machines can be fixed before breaking down completely, lowering costs and improving profitability.


 

2. Real-Time Locating Systems Keep Companies in Touch With Their Supplies

Innovations in real-time locating systems (RTLS) provide construction business owners with the ability to know where their supplies are in the warehouse so they can access them easily and efficiently. In particular, three different innovations have made RTLS more accessible to businesses throughout the supply chain.


 

Bluetooth Low Energy

Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons transmit identifying information to nearby receiving hubs, which allows employees to track locations of equipment and supplies in relation to the beacons’ locations. It uses triangulation algorithms to determine where the beacon is located, with information about exactly what the beacon is attached to being stored in the software that captures all of the transmissions. In many cases, BLE beacons are a cost-effective solution because they don’t require new hardware installation, but they can be thwarted by radio signal interference and attenuation.


 

Ultra-Wideband Technology

Much like sonar used in submarines, ultra-wideband (UWB) technology uses radio signals to provide general locations for where goods are located. It sends out radio signals and measures the time difference between UWB tags and anchors to locate materials. UWB can locate materials within 10 to 30 centimeters and provide reliable localization data in challenging conditions.


 

Enhanced RFID

Enhanced radio-frequency identification (RFID) provides opportunities for construction businesses to take legacy identification technology and update it with modern tools to make it a cutting-edge RTLS solution. RFID tags have been standard inventory tracking technology for decades, but they lack the precision of modern inventory-tracking technologies. Using machine learning techniques like deep neural networks, companies can unlock its potential and improve its precision to within one meter.

The key is collecting thousands of RFID signals and allowing deep learning to pair them with known tag locations. Computer software can then map the complexity of signal patterns and positions, committing such measurements to memory. After processing the information, machines can predict precise locations using distance measurements, range measurements and location data. Unlike other solutions, using enhanced RFID is easily scalable at various locations without significant investments in infrastructure upgrades.


 

3. AI & ML Are Changing the Way Supply Chains Function

One of the most revolutionary advancements in supply chain management is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Not only can it make supply-chain management more efficient and accurate, but it can also remove simple tasks like data entry, order processing or logistics operations. This allows people to focus on what they do best: decision-making and strategic thinking, which benefits construction businesses as they navigate a volatile market. Furthermore, ML algorithms can evaluate past data and make predictions of future events. If more companies had availed themselves of the predictive functions of AI and ML, they could have more effectively adjusted to the notorious lumber shortage of 2020. It may have meant the difference between success and failure for some.

AI and ML unlock numerous advantages, from inventory management to clear, effective governance of a company’s assets. Separately, each technology offers advantages over traditional supply chain management. Together, they provide the potential to change the way companies manage their supply chains. AI and ML can improve demand forecasting, optimize inventories, plan efficient routes, automate tasks like order picking and packing, and evaluate products for any defects before they reach the end user.


 

The Bottom Line

As the attention on supply chains has increased over the past four years, the urgency of modernizing its management has become more pressing. That’s why finding partners who understand the capabilities of the modern supply chain tools is essential. Whether your company is looking to make full use of the IoT, enhance your real-time location systems, or unlock the potential of AI and ML to save you time and money, the right partner can offer guidance and help you navigate this complicated but essential part of the U.S. economic engine.

Embracing new supply chain management tools is no longer optional if you want to succeed in the challenging construction industry. Adapting quickly to changing market conditions is vital, and using all the tools available will keep you ahead of your competitors.

 

Image courtesy of Surgere.