Crystal Gazing: The Future of Australian Supply Chains and Logistics

Mail delivered by drone could soon be a reality, as the logistics industry catches up with advances in technology. Image: The Interspect by Bako Gaboravailable at Wikimedia under a Creative Commons 1.0 license.

The Deakin Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics has recently completed a scenario planning study on behalf of the Australian Government with the aim of identifying national freight and supply chain priorities.

The study involved considering the potential for autonomous processes in place of traditional models, such as mobile driverless grocery stores as an alternative to supermarkets. Mail delivered by drone was another identified trend, with ‘RoboPost’ units capable of using public footpaths and bike lanes to make deliveries.

The study considered how the sharing economy model – developed by brands like Uber and Airbnb – could be used in supply chain management, with ideas including shared truckloads and leased warehouse space.

Other suggestions from the report included:

  • Freight-only airports and rail networks, separating passenger transport from freight
  • Decentralised farming and manufacturing, reducing the distance between producers and consumers
  • An increase in government terms and a reduction in government tiers – to facilitate better bipartisan support of infrastructure projects
  • The use of smartphone apps by consumers to track food provenance from the farm to their plate, increasing trust amongst shoppers
  • Automated, carbon neutral supply chains between Australia and China
  • Highly automated systems, and the impact upon human labour

Findings from the study will be used to inform a new national freight and supply chain strategy identified by the Government as essential to maintain competitiveness and respond to challenges such as automation, climate change and population growth.

“This strategy will inform the development of infrastructure that will take several years to implement and then needs to last decades,” said Dr Roberto Perez-Franco, a Senior Research Fellow at the Deakin Centre.

“So it’s critical we look deep into the future,” he said.

Dr Perez-Franco interviewed supply chain industry experts as part of the study, identifying a list of 200 drivers of change.

The information was then overlapped with four different scenarios for supply chain management in 2037, using a novel scenario methodology developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010, including work by Dr Perez-Franco.

According to the researcher, Australia’s city-centric population and congested rail and road networks were the biggest barriers to future supply chain performance.

“Urban congestion is a problem that will only get worse in the future unless urban planners include provisions for freight and supply chains into their plans for cities,” he said.

“Freight is expected to double over the next 20 years, so industry and all levels of government need to work together to ensure that happens smoothly and with a positive impact on the nation’s prosperity.”

“There is also a lot of anxiety about new automation technologies, like artificial intelligence and robotics, which promise to displace thousands of people in their jobs.”

“Companies and governments have the responsibility to ensure the displaced workers are retrained so that they can play meaningful roles in this brave new world.”

He believes that developing strong brand integrity is crucial in promoting Australia’s commercial advantage.

“‘Brand Australia’ could become even more important for the country’s exports,” he said.

“We can really set ourselves apart as a clean, green and ethical source of agricultural products if we make our supply chain a priority.”

Sources: Stock Journal

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