- Aerospace and defense contractors face strict oversight and compliance requirements.
- Existing and emerging technologies may help with complex inventory management, including 5G, blockchain, AGVs, AI and mobile inventory.
- Some technologies are more hype than substance. Other tried-and-true solutions can be transformative while supporting future initiatives.
Aerospace and defense contractors are no strangers to complex inventory management. You may face tightening oversight, stringent compliance requirements or counterfeit part mitigation. Prioritizing effective materials management can help you overcome these challenges to stay ahead.
For many, a key strategy includes digitizing processes and material movements on the shop floor. Automation solutions like mobile inventory, barcode scanning, 5G, AGVs and other technologies offer ways to overcome common inventory challenges.
But what are these technologies? How do they fit into your organization? Let’s examine a few of these stand-out options.
At the Cutting-edge: Hyped Technologies
Hyped technologies include emerging tech solutions that have yet to be widely adopted. For aerospace and defense, this includes 5G and Blockchain.
5G succeeds 4G as the latest generation of high-speed wireless tech. Its lightning-fast speed and greater bandwidth have significant implications for other co-dependent technologies. Once implemented, we could see the rise of IoT and IIoT devices that increase part traceability, automate counterfeit part identification, reduce an overburdened workforce, increase workplace safety and more.
Mobile hardware and software stand to benefit the most from 5G.
Currently, 5G’s use is hindered by slow roll-out and infrastructure needed to realize its full potential. Because of this, 5G remains a technology of the near future.
Blockchain has the potential to be a powerful and secure supply chain traceability technology. As an encrypted data repository, or “ledger,” blockchain can be configured to automatically maintain a record of transactions even across the most complex supply chain.
It may even help detect widespread use of counterfeit parts more effectively and on a global scale. Absolutely secure end-to-end traceability could be a reality.
However, its current use remains limited—only 3% of organizations currently use blockchain on a wide scale. Cost, complexity and access are current barriers to adoption. The greatest hurdle may lie in the fact that all members of the supply chain must come together into a single consortium to make a blockchain ledger viable.
Emerging: Promising Technologies
Promising technologies are used more often, though still not broadly across the industry. With transformative potential, expect to see more companies adopt them soon.
AGVs and LGVs
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Laser Guided Vehicles (LGVs) boost delivery time, maximize labor efficiency and support sanitation. These autonomous vehicles (which include helper robots, or “co-bots”) can take over repetitive time-consumer tasks for workers, such as picking and put-away.
For example, one food product company uses LGVs to reduce the time its workers waste commuting, or walking back and forth, to pick inventory. This one small change resulted in a 20% increase in worker productivity. The LGVs also integrate with their Oracle’s JD Edwards ERP to record transactions in real-time.
Autonomous vehicles can also be used to combat COVID-19 challenges. One Boston food bank uses similar robotic technology to sanitize its warehouse in between shifts.
AI and Machine Learning
Machine learning, a subset of AI, uses statistics and algorithms to identify patterns and then makes inferences, judgements, or predictions about a data set, similar to the way humans already do. This means it can both consume and analyze far greater amounts of data than any single employee or department. This process can also uncover important patterns a person might overwise overlook.
AI and machine learning are integral to the newest generations of ERP software, such as SAP’s Intelligent Enterprise.
Some organizations are also embedding existing applications within these algorithms to generate valuable predictions.
The potential result? Unparalleled opportunities for optimization and ultimately, significant competitive advantage.
But organizations must have the basic technical infrastructure to leverage AI and machine learning advantages (more on that below).
Proven Outcomes: Foundational Technologies
To effectively use any of the above technologies, you must first have the supporting tech landscape. This is a step that many supply chain companies overlook when creating wish lists for new software solutions. Jumping to the latest technology may offer few benefits without the appropriate infrastructure. At the foundation of that tech stack is automated data collection, such as with barcode scanning.
Failing to start with the basics can lead to budget overruns or implementation failure for other technologies.
Mobile Inventory Solutions
Mobile inventory solutions with barcoding are one versatile technology that can help build this critical foundation. Through a combination of barcodes, handhelds and software, your workers scan and transact to update your ERP in real-time. This process supports the error-free data collection that other technologies need to run properly. It’s also key to standardizing your inventory processes—a requirement for large government contracts.
Mobile barcoding streamlines cycle counting, picking, pulling, inventory adjustments and more. Each transaction is recorded automatically in your ERP with a quick barcode scan, effectively automating traceability. Your workforce can view this path directly from a mobile device, anywhere or time, to stay compliant.
Mobile inventory solutions also generate big upticks in accuracy, efficiency, throughput, and so on. Once implemented, inventory control software can facilitate more advanced technologies.
Prepping for a Technologically Diverse Future
Digitization will be required for any aerospace and defense contractor to stay on top of increasingly complex inventory needs. All five of these established and emerging technologies can help you achieve greater efficiency, traceability and compliance at lower cost.
These technologies require high-quality data in order to deliver benefits. Mobile barcoding for inventory management can deliver flawless automatic identification and data capture (AIDC). This gives you exacting control and oversight with a low cost to entry.
With the foundation in place, your organization can seamlessly integrate Industry 4.0 devices and other technologies mentioned in this article. Now you can gain confidence that you’re adopting a worthwhile investment that isn’t just all hype.