At the risk of sounding overly ambitious and pompous, I propose to think about a big topic: What should the supply chain of the future look like?

This is such a big topic and I thought I would start by throwing a few adjectives to get the conversation going:

  • Digital
  • Automated
  • Agile/Adaptive/Aligned
  • Sustainable

Among all the above attributes, the Agile/Adaptive/Aligned ones are attributed to Professor Hau Lee’s famous article The Triple-A Supply Chain. I was so happy to see that Professor Lee further elaborated on this concept and call it the new AAA Supply Chain. Definitely, the Agile-Adaptive-Aligned properties still hold, and will hold for the future supply chain.

Now let me say a few quick things about the other three.

Digital. It is clear from the development of the past twenty years, everything has gone, or is going, digital. The same with manufacturing and supply chain. The fundamental driver is the Internet. With the Internet, manufacturing and supply chains could be measured, monitored, and managed whenever and wherever. Plus, the new manufacturing paradigms such as additive manufacturing are be definition digital. Therefore supply chains will have to be digitized.

Automated. This is some subtlety to this. It is clear that lots of supply chain functions have been or will be automated, such as the manufacturing, warehousing and transport of many products will be automated. Just look at Tesla manufacturing, or Amazon warehouse, or Drone deliveries. But I think the other side is that automation will create new jobs. For example, with 3D-printing, we will need people who can design products digitally. We will also need people to design and manufacturing the 3D-printers and their components. The net effects are yet to be quantified.

Sustainable. This is a big one. This is also we lag behind. It is abundantly clear that we are depleting our natural resources rapidly, and destroying our own environment while doing it. So it is important that we transform manufacturing and supply chain to be environmentally sustainable. Use clean energy. Design products so that they can be 100% recycled or reused.