Inbound Logistics | April 2023


A s supply chains grow more complex and customer demands escalate, many shippers are depending on third-party logistics (3PL) providers to help them navigate the array of challenges they now must face. In response, 3PLs are deploying advanced technology solutions to serve their clients’ needs and boost their supply chains.

get settled into one space, another one is coming to replace it,” she says. Automation has brought the introduction of more scalable options into the warehouse, helping startups and other businesses adjust to evolving conditions. “A lot of shippers are leaning on their 3PL to help implement a small- footprint technology solution that can then be expandable as the business grows or as the business needs to change,” Bolumole says. BEYOND THE WAREHOUSE Automation is not limited just to the warehouse. For instance, Polaris Transportation Group, a Canada-based supply chain solutions provider, adopted intelligent process automation—a type of robotic process automation—to manage the ow of administrative documents. Polaris focused on integrating automation into its customs clearance and order management processes, which were especially demanding and time- consuming for employees.

The acceleration of technology adoption in the supply chain due to the pandemic is well-documented, covering a range of topics and tasks. Most prominently, the pandemic highlighted the value that automation can bring to warehouses and distribution centers, while also underlining “the criticality of data-driven insights for how to plan for your supply chain, how to plan for transportation, and how to plan for inventory management,” says Yemisi Bolumole, Ryder professor in supply chain management at the University of Tennessee. Consequently, technology is going to play a growing role in the 3PL eld in the years ahead as tech solutions become even more sophisticated—and readily available. “The good news is both physical and data-driven technology is getting more accessible,” Bolumole says. ADVANCING AUTOMATION 3PLs’ use of warehouse automation to support shippers has a long history, but recent years have seen “a leapfrog progression in that space” accelerated by pandemic-related demands associated with labor shortages and a dramatic shift among consumers toward ecommerce, says Bolumole. The price point for robotics has come down for shippers and 3PLs interested in exploring automation as competition

has intensied and more providers have entered the marketplace. The result is a wide variety of options for 3PLs and shippers to consider. “Think about what has happened to the price point of robotics in the past 10 years,” Bolumole says. “We’ve come from a time when three or four large suppliers ruled the industry to today, when we have a lot of competition.” The proliferation of automation also has brought rapid advances in the technology. “It’s almost as though before we even

Polaris Transportation Group founded a separate company, NorthStar Digital Solutions, as a spino software division focused on supply chain solutions.

80 Inbound Logistics • April 2023

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