SCDigest: Here Soon, Technology that will Dramatically Impact Supply Chains
By Dan Gilmore, Editor-in-Chief
special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current
article from Supply Chain Digest.
In his book, Jump the
Curve, Jack Uldrich discusses how rapidly growing technologies (or trends)
can stay small for a long time when starting from a tiny base, but then
suddenly explode – leaving many companies unprepared.
First, a lesson on the
unique attributes of exponential growth. Mr. Uldrich notes in the book
an example using a water lily. Let’s say you have a single water lily in
a pond that will grow to cover the entire pond in 30 days. Guess how much
of the pond would be covered in 20 days? Much, much less than most people
– just .01 percent! In fact, at day 25, just over 3 percent of the
pond would be covered. The growth in the last five days is astounding.
It turns out there are
more of those areas than we might realize, zooming along at a rapid pace
and likely to soon gain real critical mass. Here’s a few examples of what
Mr. Uldrich sees as game-changing technologies:
Robots: From surgery to military operations
to even the home, “I, Robot” has already come or will be here
soon. Stanford students, Uldrich said, have built a robot that can assemble
an IKEA bookshelf. The number of personal robots, still in their infancy,
really, employed to do vacuuming, scrubbing and other household or industrial
chores, is expected to grow from 2 million worldwide in 2007 to 9 million
this year – now that’s exponential growth.
The potential for robotics
in manufacturing and logistics is immense. Not only as a cost reducer,
but potentially allowing more affordable customization, more on-demand
production, or changing the cost dynamics of outsourcing.
Computing Power: We have plenty of powerful computers
already, but we are still just scratching the surface. Mr. Uldrich says
that an entry level Cray Supercomputer – incredibly powerful machines – can
now be purchased for as little as $25,000, and are heading further south.
This raw computing horsepower will be enabled by a new generation of software
that is being developed using such techniques as “genetic algorithms” that
can take advantage of this power and solve problems that machines simply
couldn’t handle before.
Nanotechnology: In short, nanotechnology is the
science of being able to manipulate atoms – something we have only
fairly recently learned how to do, but the ramifications of that capability
are endless and profound. For example, scientists have the ability right
now to make real diamonds using nanotechnology. (What is
a diamond but a string of carbon atoms?) What if everyone can have a two
carat, perfectly clear engagement ring for $99? This could
change the whole perception of diamonds.
Mr. Uldrich even expects
RFID to hit this kind of exponential growth curve soon, and by some measures,
though still relatively insignificant in the total scheme of things, RFID
is already seeing that kind of growth now.
Do you agree there are a number of technologies being developed/applied
right now that could be real game changers? What do you see as the most
dramatic or powerful, for businesses, supply chains or consumers?