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/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/jetsons1_414108.jpgWhen I was a little kid, I watched The Jetsons on TV. For those too young to remember, the Jetsons were a futuristic family who were surrounded by innovation and automation. Now I look around me and with all the innovation going on, and am beginning to feel like George Jetson in Skypad Apartments.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about 3D printing of food and used the examples of Barilla, which plans to introduce 3D food printers in restaurants, and the Hershey Co. who recently announced a partnership to “print” chocolate. Analysts expect worldwide shipments of mass market 3D printers, already a billion dollar business, will nearly double from last year to almost 100,000 units in 2014 and double again in 2015. A home 3D Printer is now available for as little as $500, so I could soon be printing goods in my own home instead of going to the store.

Another example in the news is the Oreo vending machine that uses 3D printing to create personalized treats. You will be able to order a customized Oreo and see it appear before your eyes. I can already go to a coke vending machine and completely customize my soda (My son comes up with some really exotic combinations!).

It’s not a great leap of faith to have the vending machines leverage smart sensors to automatically generate replenishment orders as the individual material fall below their reorder points. You then get into the realm of machine to machine interactions (the internet of things). In fact, according to a Cisco Internet of Things infographic, it is projected that by 2020, there will be upwards of 50 billion connected devices worldwide. And as machine to machine technology proliferates we will see an enormous increase of “connected” machines and the corresponding amount of “big data.”

What if a component fails on that vending machine? Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply print the replacement part instead of having to order it or keep spare parts just in case something goes wrong?  This concept could transform the service parts supply chain.  Instead of carrying slow moving parts across a network of warehouses, you could just manufacture the parts as needed.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Smart Machines are already a part of my daily life. I wear wristband that tracks how far I have walked, how much I exercise, and how well I have slept. I have a pair of trainers which reports how far I have ran back to my iPhone. To balance all the exercise the minibar in my hotel knows when I “knock over” yet another miniature of whisky and it automatically appears on my bill.

Smart sensors are predicted to grow at a CAGR of 36% to 2020 according to RnRMarketResearch.com.   In a business context, many companies are already “tagging” items with smart sensors to track and trace them through the supply chain and to know every step in its movement from “farm to plate”.

And  if you are looking for a direct delivery of any of these items, very soon, you could even have the highly publicized Amazon drone deliver the materials to your doorstep. Now that is straight out of the Jetsons.

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  1. Debra Curtis-Magley

    Fascinating post Richard. The near future promises to deliver an array of options that could significantly alter supply chains. You’ve forecast some interesting possibilities.

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