How machine vision, AI and RFID technologies can prepare the supply chain for the business metaverse

Digital banking, e-commerce, intelligent data-driven enterprises and the digitalized supply chain are the key pillars of the digital economy, with smart cities serving as the foundation upon which these four pillars are erected.

The weakest pillar seems to be in the supply chain and logistics arena, which is still very human-dependent and slower in digitalizing to take advantage of automation tools such as robotics, AI and machine vision.

With e-commerce booming during the pandemic, and hybrid ‘phygital’ shopping taking hold in the post-pandemic norm, the top three challenges in logistics include:

    • Demand for faster delivery to end customers
    • Increased transportation costs
    • Inventory accuracy and visibility

But first, let’s have a look at the bigger picture across several industries in the digital economy that’s at the cusp of evolving into the business metaverse…

Triple squeeze

At the Zebra Channel Partner Summit held in March 2023 in Bali, Zebra Technologies’ Chief Technology Officer Tom Bianculli shared that, according to its Intelligent Enterprise Index, 61% of enterprises are on the path to becoming ‘intelligent’ – which Zebra defines as the ability to connect the physical and digital worlds to drive innovation through real-time guidance, data-powered environments and collaborative mobile workflows.

However, this intelligent transformation is not without major challenges. Organizations on their digital transformation journeys are experiencing a triple squeeze in:

    1. Cost & shortage of labor
    2. Optimizing for new expectations
    3. Diminished predictability

Bianculli said: “To meet these challenges, many organizations are prioritizing investments in digitization and automation, especially in workflow automation and augmentation, end-to-end supply-chain visibility, improved analytics for decision making predictive planning, and a unified view of customers across channels to deliver personalized experiences.”

Tom Bianculli, Chief Technology Officer, Zebra Technologies

Zebra has made several future-ready acquisitions in AI, machine vision and robotics and integrated them seamlessly with its RFID innovations to help deliver these outcomes.

Tan Aik Jin, APAC Vertical Solutions Lead for Manufacturing, Machine Vision/Fixed Industrial Scanning, Zebra Technologies, explained the usefulness of such solutions: “With the help of machine vision, systems will be able to notify key employees when an anomaly is discovered, assisting workers in deciding the best course of action to solve the problem. As such, businesses can avoid significant inventory, financial or customer losses.”

The ability to capture images and process data on-premise, on the road – or basically anywhere – allows organizations to easily and quickly track inventories and deliveries, pick up on visual inconsistencies in labelling or packaging, and more.

Key opportunities in APAC

“The Asian Development Bank is forecasting inflation to hit 4.2% in Asia, while the International Monetary Fund has warned that recession will hit a third of the global economy in 2023,” said Ryan Goh, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific, Zebra Technologies.

“Reinvention across industries is required to stay relevant and ride the waves and headwinds of change. Digitalization is now a necessity for organizations to remain future-proof.”

Goh also shared some 2023 industry-specific insights – for retail, manufacturing and warehousing & distribution – in APAC at the event:

Retail – 70% of APAC consumers prefer shopping both in-store and online, and favor online retailers that also offer brick-and-mortar locations, according to Zebra’s 15th global shopper study.

Manufacturing – 69% of APAC automotive manufacturers expect to increase tech spend, 63% plan to increase manufacturing infrastructure spend in 2023. Intelligent factories are augmenting human labor with automation in the areas of IT/OT convergence and AI/ML adoption to improve processes and efficiencies.

Warehousing & Distribution – 87% of decision makers agree that new technology is needed to stay competitive in today’s on-demand economy. Digital agility will be key to get ahead of ever-evolving consumer expectations.

Preparing the supply chain for the metaverse

As the weakest pillar in the digital economy, lagging behind in leveraging digital innovation to meet the exponential growth in e-commerce and omnichannel retail, the warehousing and distribution industry will need to play catch-up – to get ready for hybrid phygital business metaverse ahead.

Key strategies would include leveraging real-time data to drive every decision and action from the dock to the doorstep, and developing new last-mile delivery models driven by changing demand.

Machine vision, RFID and AI have the potential to revolutionize the logistics sector by streamlining processes, improving efficiency, and reducing costs. Here are some ways in which these technologies can help future-proof the logistics sector:

    • Enhanced visibility and tracking: Machine vision and RFID can enable real-time tracking and monitoring of goods throughout the entire supply chain. Machine vision systems can capture and analyze visual data from cameras and other sensors to track the movement and condition of goods, while RFID tags can be attached to products or containers to provide detailed information such as location, temperature, and handling history. AI algorithms can then process this data to provide actionable insights, allowing logistics companies to have enhanced visibility into their operations, reduce delays, and optimize routes and resources.
    • Automation and optimization: Machine vision and AI can automate various logistics processes, such as inventory management, sorting, and quality control. Machine vision systems can quickly and accurately identify products, barcodes, and labels, while AI algorithms can analyze data to optimize inventory levels, route planning, and load balancing. This can result in significant cost savings, improved accuracy, and faster throughput in warehouses, distribution centers, and transportation operations.
    • Predictive maintenance: Machine vision and AI can enable predictive maintenance in logistics operations. Machine vision systems can monitor equipment and vehicles in real-time, detecting anomalies and predicting potential failures before they occur. AI algorithms can analyze historical data and sensor inputs to identify patterns and make predictions, allowing logistics companies to proactively schedule maintenance activities, reduce downtime, and improve overall equipment reliability.
    • Improved security and compliance: RFID and machine vision can enhance security and compliance in the logistics sector. RFID tags can provide tamper-evident seals and authenticate products, preventing counterfeiting and ensuring product integrity. Machine vision systems can detect security breaches, monitor compliance with regulations such as hazardous materials handling, and provide real-time alerts in case of violations. AI algorithms can also analyze data from multiple sources to identify potential risks and patterns of non-compliance, helping logistics companies to maintain high levels of security and compliance.
    • Demand forecasting and optimization: Machine vision, RFID, and AI can improve demand forecasting and optimization in logistics operations. Machine vision systems can analyze visual data, such as shelf space and product placement in retail environments, to gather insights on customer behavior and preferences. RFID tags can track product movement and sales data, providing real-time information on demand patterns. AI algorithms can then analyze this data to generate accurate demand forecasts, optimize inventory levels, and improve supply chain efficiency.