Here’s How 3 Global Giants Improve the Supply Chain With AI

Amazon, Maersk and Walmart all use AI to help products travel the world faster and more efficiently.

Written by Raja Iqbal
Published on Dec. 06, 2023
Here’s How 3 Global Giants Improve the Supply Chain With AI
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Supply chain, the backbone of global commerce, is undergoing a transformative shift driven by generative AI. This powerful technology, capable of generating new data and insights, is poised to revolutionize the way businesses manage their supply chains, from optimizing inventory levels to predicting demand fluctuations. 

5 Ways Retailers Use AI in the Supply Chain

  1. Predictive maintenance of vehicles.
  2. Demand forecasting to optimize inventory levels and reduce stockouts and overstocks.
  3. Route optimization to data calculate the most efficient route for each delivery.
  4. Warehouse automation for picking, sorting and packing. 
  5. Risk management to identify and mitigate potential risks such as cyberattacks.

By 2026, 55 percent of the Forbes Global 2000 Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) will have redesigned their service supply chains based on AI, according to market research firm IDC. This widespread adoption underscores the immense potential of AI to streamline operations, enhance efficiency and gain a competitive edge in the dynamic world of supply chain management. 

McKinsey estimates that generative AI could add an equivalent of $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion annually across various use cases. This significant economic value addition reflects the transformative potential of AI in reshaping supply chains and other sectors as well. 

Here’s how Amazon, Walmart and Maersk, a global shipping and logistics company, use generative AI in different areas of the supply chain.  

Read More about the supply chain15 Examples of AI in Supply Chain and Logistics

 
Amazon: Inventory Management 

By using AI algorithms to forecast product demand, Amazon can optimize its inventory management, ensuring that the right products are in the right place at the right time. This intelligent approach reduces costs and streamlines the fulfillment process, allowing Amazon to offer same-day or next-day delivery to millions of eager customers.  


Demand forecasting

Amazon’s AI algorithms sift through a sea of historical sales data, customer trends and external factors to predict the future demand and ensure that their inventory levels are as finely tuned as possible. The result? Products are available in just the right quantities and precisely when customers need them. This significantly reduces stockouts and surpluses and boosts customer satisfaction. 

 

Warehouse Operations

In Amazon’s warehouses, AI-powered robots, efficiently handling storage, retrieval and packaging, resemble diligent bees in a hive. The result is reduced labor costs and accelerating processes. 

 

Route optimization

Here, Amazon’s AI takes on the role of an expert navigator, considering traffic patterns, weather conditions and driver availability to chart the most efficient delivery routes. This is about getting from point A to point B in a way that trims fuel consumption and delivery times. 

  

Monitoring equipment performance

AI helps to foresee and forestall potential failures. This approach is a step ahead, ensuring operations run smoothly, downtime is minimized and the risk of costly disruptions is substantially reduced. 

  

Customer Service 

AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants are at the frontline. They’re not just automated responders; they’re more like knowledgeable assistants adept at handling a wide array of inquiries, resolving issues promptly and providing customers with real-time order tracking information. 

 

Maersk Line: Greater Efficiencies

Maersk Line, a titan of the global shipping industry, has turned to generative AI to navigate the complexities of its vast network of container ships. By using AI to optimize container loading, scheduling and route planning, Maersk has achieved significant fuel savings and reduced its environmental footprint. This commitment to sustainability, driven by AI, demonstrates Maersk’s dedication to responsible stewardship of our planet. 

 

Real-time insights into supply chain operations

Maersk uses AI to collect and analyze data from its ships, ports and warehouses to get real-time visibility into its supply chain operations. This data is then used to identify potential problems and make informed decisions about how to optimize the flow of goods. For example, AI can be used to predict when a ship might be delayed, and then reroute it to avoid port congestion. 

 

Accurate forecasting of demand patterns

AI helps the company to plan its capacity and avoid costly over- or under-capacity. For example, AI can be used to analyze historical sales data and external factors such as weather and economic trends to predict future demand. 

 

Optimized inventory levels

Integration of generative AI optimizes inventory levels at warehouses. This ensures that the company has the right amount of stock on hand to meet customer demand without having excess inventory. For example, AI can be used to analyze sales data and inventory levels to predict when stock levels are likely to run low or high.  

 

Reduced transportation costs

Optimization of shipping routes helps reduce transportation costs. This involves factors such as fuel consumption, traffic patterns and weather conditions. For example, AI can calculate the most fuel-efficient route for a ship based on real-time weather data.  

 

Improved customer service

Maersk now provides real-time tracking of shipments and proactively addresses potential problems. For example, AI can be used to predict when a shipment might be delayed and notify the customer so that they can make alternative arrangements. 

Maersk also usies AI to develop new products and services, such as a digital twin of its global supply chain that can be used to test new strategies and optimize operations 
 

Walmart: Enhanced Customer Service 

By deploying large language models (LLMs) in its chatbots and virtual assistants, Walmart provides customers with 24/7 support, enabling them to track orders, resolve issues and receive real-time supply chain updates. This elevates the customer experience, fostering a sense of loyalty and trust that is essential for retail success. 

 

Demand forecasting 

Similar to Amazon, Walmart also uses AI to analyze historical sales data, customer trends and external factors to forecast demand for its products. This helps the company to ensure that it has the right amount of stock on hand to meet customer demand without having too much excess inventory.  

 

Warehouse automation

To improve efficiency and reduce labor costs. Walmart uses AI to automate tasks in its warehouses, such as picking and packing orders.   

 

Route optimization

Walmart uses AI to optimize the routes of its delivery trucks. This reduces fuel consumption and improves delivery times.  

Customer service

Known for its remarkable customer service, Walmart uses AI to further improve its customer service by providing real-time order tracking and proactively addressing potential problems. 

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AI’s Limitations in Supply Chains

While AI has brought remarkable advancements to supply chain management, it also has limits. Understanding these constraints helps in developing more realistic expectations and strategies for AI integration. Here are some key limitations of AI in supply chains.

 

Data Quality and Availability

AI systems require large volumes of high-quality data to function effectively. In supply chains, consistent and reliable data collection can be challenging, and poor data quality can lead to inaccurate AI predictions and decisions. 
 

Complex Supply Chain Dynamics

Supply chains are inherently complex, involving multiple stakeholders, processes and variables. AI models might struggle to fully grasp and predict the nuances of these dynamics, especially under rapidly changing conditions. 
 

Integration with Existing Systems

Integrating AI into existing supply chain systems and processes can be a challenge. Compatibility issues, the need for substantial infrastructure changes and the potential disruption of established workflows can hinder AI adoption. 
 

Cost and Resource Intensity

Developing, deploying and maintaining AI solutions can be resource-intensive and costly. This can be a significant barrier, especially for companies with limited budgets. 
 

Dependence on Historical Data

AI models often rely heavily on historical data for training. In rapidly evolving markets or situations where past patterns may not predict future outcomes (like during a pandemic), AI's effectiveness can be limited. 
 

Ethical and Privacy Concerns

The use of AI in supply chains raises concerns about privacy, especially when handling sensitive data. There’s also the broader ethical issue of AI decision-making processes being opaque, which can lead to trust and accountability issues. 
 

Risk of Over-reliance

Over-reliance on AI can lead to a lack of human oversight, which is crucial in managing unforeseen situations and complex decision-making scenarios that AI might not yet be equipped to handle. 
 

Talent and Skills Gap

There’s often a skills gap in the workforce when it comes to deploying and managing AI solutions. This lack of expertise can limit the effective implementation and utilization of AI in supply chains. 

AI’s ability to analyze vast amounts of data, identify patterns and make predictions enables businesses to optimize inventory levels, reducing the risk of stockouts and overstocking. AI is also used to predict demand fluctuations with greater accuracy, allowing businesses to proactively adjust production schedules and allocate resources more effectively. 

As businesses embrace the transformative potential of generative AI, they must also navigate the ethical and responsible implementation of this powerful technology. Ensuring data privacy, mitigating bias and fostering transparency are essential considerations as we harness the power of AI to shape the future of supply chain management.

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