AI for Supply Chain, Transport & Logistics

AI for Supply Chain, Transport & Logistics

AI is helping to optimize route planning, demand forecasting, inventory management, and last-mile delivery for the supply chain, transportation and logistics sectors. It’s also a key factor in increasing interoperability within the industry.

For example, CN has a rail network that spans Canada from coast to coast to coast. To maintain this sprawling network, the transportation and logistics company has made substantial investments in innovative technology to improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of its railroad operations.

CN’s Automated Inspection Portal is a sophisticated visualization system that provides real-time 360-degree train inspection as trains travel at track speeds. With machine vision applications—a subcategory of AI with deep learning capabilities—CN uses this technology in conjunction with live monitoring to help CN inspectors detect a wide variety of mechanical defects and proactively identify railcars needing maintenance.

CN also monitors the track itself, which requires training AI models. “It’s a challenging task but the results are spectacular,” said Dominique Malenfant, Executive Vice-President and Chief Information and Technology Officer at CN, during a panel at ALL IN.

This allows them to inspect the track more often than they would be able to manually. “The quantity of the rail inspection has improved by a factor of 10 times, so it is quite the result,” he said.

Brian Hatter, President of True North Marine, is also seeing impressive results from the use of AI. Ships have operated on traditional routes for hundreds of years, depending on seasonality. But with AI, True North Marine is able to design routes—based on a decades’ worth of weather data—that allow vessels to arrive just in time rather than speeding across the ocean, arriving at a destination and sitting there for four or five days burning fuel.

“We’re assessing what the ship’s capabilities are, what the weather is and how it’s changing, and adjusting the speed and the route as we go along,” he said.

“What we’ve seen on average is savings of between five to 10 per cent on fuel usage, which for these types of ships is huge. That’s anywhere between one metric ton and five metric tons per day, per ship. So you’re talking about 1,000 to 5,000 litres of fuel it’s saving across a fleet of 800 to 900 ships. It’s pretty significant,” said Hatter. At the same time, it’s also helping to reduce bottlenecks at ports.

CN’s Malenfant points to the importance of collaboration among various players throughout the supply chain.

“The rail network is a massive ecosystem of partners,” he said. Goods are shipped across oceans, picked up from ports by trains, taken to terminals and then transferred to trucks. One of the biggest benefits of AI is being able to connect with the right partners at the right time and the right place.

“All of those ecosystem partners need to collaborate together,” said Malenfant. “So we see our rail competitors as partners as well.”

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