Olivia Buckingham attended Cambridge Wireless’ ‘Supply Chain 4.0 – How Wireless Communications is at the Centre of Supply Chain Digitisation’ event. Chaired by the National Physical Laboratory’s Andre Burgess, the event focused on how current and emerging digital technologies can impact supply chain efficiency, sustainability and resilience. This felt particularly topical, with the fragility and importance of supply chains having been highlighted by recent COVID-19 vaccine production issues.
Tom White, Director of Modelling and Appraisal at Connected Places Catapult, kicked off the event with a session on ‘Supply Chains of the Future’. He discussed some of the challenges faced by supply chains, such as decarbonisation ambitions and post-COVID uncertainty, and what future supply chains need to be. The concept of ‘Supply Chain 4.0’ was then presented as the route to sustainable economic growth through being efficient, connected, clean, resilient, transparent, secure, safe, and ethical.
Tom then introduced the Connected and Autonomous Logistics project funded under the Department for Culture, Media & Sport’s 5G Create programme. The project is trialling an autonomous 40 tonne transfer vehicle across the Nissan site in Sunderland, using 5G connectivity to remove the safety operator and allow remote teleoperation.
The next session on ‘Smart Freight & Smart Ports’ was delivered by Frank Dunsmuir of Fujitsu. He presented a ‘Drive Through Border Concept’ which would facilitate the efficient movement of food products across borders. Using GPS signals, digital versions of documents such as health certificates and customs declarations can be associated with vehicles transporting food products. Using geo-fences, the vehicle can ‘announce’ itself to port officials, and by automating risk assessment, they are only flagged for physical checks if necessary.
The next speaker was David Sharp, Head of Technology 10X at Ocado Technology. He introduced the Ocado Smart Platform (OSP), which is the most advanced e-commerce, logistics and fulfilment platform for groceries in the world, with the OSP warehouse using robots to help assemble customer orders. These ‘bots’ travel at 9 miles per hour, pass 5mm apart and collaborate in swarms such that they can pick a 50-item order in just 5 minutes. This is all facilitated by a wireless communication system that is the densest mobile network in the world. They further produce 4 terabytes of diagnostic data per day, which can then be fed into machine learning algorithms.
Moving onto picking groceries, Ocado has now gone live with picking robotics at their Erith customer fulfilment centre. ‘Sucking robots’ use suction to pick up and put down cans and robotic picking hands facilitate the handling of soft fruits. The acquisition of companies Kindred AI, who developed robots for picking clothing, and Haddington Dynamics, who produce 3D printed robots, only adds to Ocado’s robotics portfolio.
The event wrapped up with a Q&A panel session which reinforced the key idea to take away: wireless connectivity will play a vital role in the managing of future efficient and resilient supply chains.
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