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Engineering Technology for Supply Chain

iTuesday, Apr 5th, 2016 comments by Busisiwe Keke

What is a Supply Chain?

This year the theme for the technical challenge for WomEng Fellowship Week is Engineering Technology for Supply Chain. Before we can tackle any technologies, we need to ask…What is a supply chain?

By definition, a supply chain is simply a sequence (‘chain’) of process steps involved in the manufacturing and distribution (‘supply’) of a commodity, that is, goods or services; it can also refer to the entire network of bodies that are interlinked and interdependent in supplying the consumer with good or services (WebFinance, Inc., 2016). These ‘bodies’ may refer to individuals, organizations, resources, activities and technologies all involved in the creation and sale of the product (TechTarget, 2016).

The supply chain is a crucial link between the manufacturing industry and consumer needs; this series of steps would usually start with acquiring vendors that obtain and supply the raw materials required, and end with a satisfied consumer. The ultimate success of a product depends heavily on the supply chain system which comprises of the following steps: manufacturing, quality control, storage, distribution and transportation of the product.

As engineers, we are interested in designing processes or equipment to allow for smooth operation of the supply chain network. This can range from raw material extraction and manufacturing processes, to management and distribution processes. The technology involved should be designed effectively to allow for efficient, cost effective, safe and high-quality product manufacturing in a reasonable time scale. So, our challenge to you is, what type of engineering technologies can achieve this?

The five key areas for development that WomEng has identified and will be further discussed, are manufacturing; ‘the internet of things’; robotics; transportation; and drones. These areas are of strategic interest to achieve supply chain objectives using engineering technology, and are currently seen in the global supply chain engineering and management trends.

Manufacturing is one of the key areas of focus due to it being the heart of the supply chain. Without it, the raw materials cannot be converted to a final product for sale to the consumer. Typical manufacturing technology includes software for process operation and data capturing, raw material reaction and separation equipment, material packaging equipment, product quality control equipment, material handling equipment and a wide range of automated systems (The Association for Manufacturing Technology, 2016).

The Internet of Things refers to any device that is able to collect and transmit data via internet connection (Morgan, 2014). It is also listed as one of the three core supply chain management trends by Robinson (2015). A supply chain can be managed and optimised using this concept such that a supplier can respond to the dynamics of demands in the market and the availability of raw materials automatically through data transmission and analysis in real time via the internet. This will involve intercommunication between machines using software technology and automatic decision making tools to eliminate any administrative issues which may be extremely time consuming. This can be particularly useful in manufacturing and distribution networks.

Robotics is another key engineering technology which involves automation of equipment to ensure for time efficiency and quality control. This then ties in with ‘the internet of things’ in providing an automated response to data received from another device or from the internet.

Transportation is a key component in distribution of products but also the transfer of raw materials to the manufacturing plant. Here, engineering technology will play a key role in optimising transport routes, types and networks in terms of cost, time and reliability.

Lastly, drones is also a vital player for the future of engineering technology for supply chain. Drones are capable of retrieving real time photo and video data, this can be very useful for asset monitoring and even corporate espionage (Harbert, 2015). Drones are also useful for the transport of small packages in a very short space of time. This can be used for transport between supplier, retailer and consumer, but also within massive manufacturing plants or storage warehouses.

The examples of engineering technology for supply chain are just a few of the many already out there and still to be developed. The current issues in supply chain can be solved through these technologies. Engineers are vital and well equipped to tackle these challenges. Are YOU ready to take on the challenge?

Register on the WomEng website and apply for the 2016 Fellowship Week here: Application Form

 - Zaynab Sadan


Harbert, T., 2015. 4 Places that Drones May Invade the Supply Chain. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 5 April 2016].

Morgan, J., 2014. A Simple Explanation of 'The Internet of Things'. [Online]   Available at: [Accessed 5 April 2016].

Remsol, 2016. How a shorter supply chain can boost sustainability and resilience. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 3 April 2016].

Robinson, A., 2015. 3 Core Supply Chain Management Trends Gearing Up to Change SCM Forever. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 5 April 2016].

TechTarget, 2016. Definition: supply chain (SC). [Online] Available at: [Accessed 3 April 2016].

The Association for Manufacturing Technology, 2016. What is Manufacturing Technology?. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 5 April 2016].

WebFinance, Inc., 2016. Definition: Supply Chain. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 3 April 2016].



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