Transformers: Supply Chain 3.0 and How Automation will Transform the Rules of the Global Supply Chain

By Sean Culey

From the 1960’s up until the 1990’s Western manufacturing companies were out-performed by new levels of quality, cost and efficiencies emanating from Japan.Upon realising that this new competition from the Far East was playing to a different set of rules, the West endeavoured to catch up by understanding and applying principles such as Kaizen, TQM and Lean themselves.


This process took decades, caused partly by assumptions that Japan’s success could be replicated simply from copying the techniques, rather than understanding that it was more an inter-woven series of principles and beliefs. Going through the motions by sitting in Quality Circles and talking ‘zero defects’ did little until the activities were aligned with the strategies and management of the organisation. Even now, many Western manufacturing companies struggle to implement these principles and achieve the desired efficiency savings.

Following on from the Japanese management revolution, Michael Hammer’s concept of ‘Reengineering the Corporation1’ became very popular, which, alongside the Y2K issue, helped create worldwide demand for integrated ERP systems like SAP. Once again, different companies obtained significantly different levels of ROI from these initiatives and investments2. Likewise in the early 2000’s the boom saw many companies jump headfirst into this digital revolution, without fully establishing the best way for this new technology to be used.

I now believe we are about to move into the next significant period of change – this time from automated systems. Recent months have seen the introduction of a number of new inventions that when viewed individually may appear to be just interesting but disparate tools – however, all is not as it seems.

Let’s go through the different innovations in each area of the Supply Chain…

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