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Supply Chain Education Focused on Tech

Supply Chain Education Focused on Tech
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Supply Chain Education Focused on Tech


The University of Nebraska at Omaha operates one of the state’s few programs dedicated to supply chain. Steve Schulz, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Logistics & Supply Chain Management, said the program focuses on all the latest innovations regarding supply chain technology. “Covid accelerated our move into more technology,” Schulz said. “Our students have to be ready to implement the latest software and tools. They need to understand data and to develop great strategies leading to great results.”

Schulz said the recent supply chain crunch was driven by the pandemic, but it’s been strained because of a move towards more e-commerce and home delivery. “When people stayed home, they ordered doorstep service and our system just couldn’t turn on a dime like that,” he said. “We’re becoming more agile. The need for supply chain professionals is huge right now.”

Technology may be a path towards, “catching up,” he said. It requires assembling reliable data and deciphering it into actionable intelligence. Schulz also cautioned against information overload and pointed to a more open sharing of information using the cloud.

Manufacturers have been transforming technology since before the pandemic. The speed of change has increased due to labor shortages, component shortages, inflation, and supply chain woes. One answer is Industry 4.0 which revolutionizes automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and processes. This includes IoT, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, cognitive computing, and artificial intelligence.

Industry 4.0 Concepts
  > Interconnective IoT cloud pulls software, sensors, devices, and people together.
  > Transparency Employees have comprehensive data to make decisions. Connectivity allows for immense amounts of data from multiple manufacturing points. Better data helps people point energy toward the best processes.
  > Decentralized Workers make decisions on their own to perform tasks autonomously.
Better delegation to a lower level.
  > Tech Assist Simplify or automate decision-making, and reduce human intervention
with unsafe tasks (like climbing bins to measure level).

“We were Industry 4.0 before the term got popular, said Nathan Grube, BinMaster regional VP. “The biggest leap in technology has been our cloud integration. We devoted an entire department to constantly improving our platform. We have programmers and even a UX/IX designer constantly collaborating to make the user experience more effective. Software shouldn’t get in the way of data. Our report can feed into other reporting tools or we can bring data into our BinCloud application so customers can get one report on all their inventory data.”

Sensors and cloud software are considered a foundation of Industry 4.0 and Inventory 4.0. BinMaster technology fits into the category of Internet of Things (IoT) which describes a wireless network of devices embedded with sensors for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data. IoT is growing in the manufacturing industry, however, many processes have yet to incorporate the potential.

BinMaster IoT inventory sensors and software:
  > Provide insights for data-driven decisions to increase efficiency and drive down costs
  > Shorten lead times for production
  > Reduce carrying costs and last-minute purchases
  > Reduce waste on bulk inventory that could spoil
  > Accurate inventory feeds data to Enterprise Resource Planning systems
  > Streamline transportation and timely ordering

Sensors and instrumentation drive the central forces of innovation, not only for Industry 4.0, but also for other “smart” megatrends, such as smart production, smart logistics, and smart factories. Smart sensors are devices, that generate data and allow further functionality through the use of Cloud-based processing power. With the added capability of wireless communication, they greatly reduce installation effort and help streamline and consolidate a wide array of manual tasks.

“More and more, I’m working with IT people,” Grube said. “Production and inventory managers are combining their efforts with technology managers. They understand the importance of continuously improving their supply chain understanding. They know technology can help with the worker shortage. They continue to challenge us to get better and we love it.”

Grube said IT is heavily involved with sensors and software because of a heavy emphasis on integration into cloud systems. He said BinMaster can ease security concerns and simplify software maintenance.

An agrochemical plant in the southeast U.S. maintained more than 150 stainless steel tanks, each about 30 feet tall. Their end product includes chemicals, fertilizers, seed treatments, and biological nutrition for farms.

Grube said for years, the company was feeling the “stress of success” with more need than capacity. Several years ago, owners made technology a priority of operations. While they didn’t declare a move to Industry 4.0, their purchases and newly-implemented systems reflect a change.

“It was all about automation,” said Grube. “Early on, they looked at the beginning of the process, and that was all about bulk inventory. They wanted our sensors right away.”

Bonine said sensor technology freed a lot of time for on-site employees, but it took time to develop practices to use the data. “We’ve learned from each other and--as other technology entered the picture--we knew the way to get inventory data integrated into their new processes was going to be the cloud,” he said. “In fact, some of the features of our BinCloud and Binventory software were a result of companies like this that are breaking ground on high-tech production.”

Fully implemented, BinMaster systems now allow the plant to anticipate inventory with quick turnover. Purchasing keeps up with orders and deliveries. Low or out-of-stock tanks no longer stop production. Time-taking inventory was cut by 75%. This agrochemical plant, increased the speed of automation as the pandemic hit. Now, inventory is coupled with multiple cloud-based reports often used by employees monitoring from their phones. Suppliers and truckers can view activity on site.

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