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Quantum Computing Applications for Supply Chain

While more people are becoming familiar with artificial intelligence, blockchain, and other recent technological innovations, there’s another innovation in computer science that business should know about. The power of quantum computing applications to solve complex challenges will transform various industries, from finance, pharma, oil and gas, to manufacturing. Although the technology will need continuous improvement in order to maximize value, tech companies are already offering access to QC features. Through its ability to optimize energy usage and logistics planning, quantum computing (QC) will be able to increase sustainability within the supply chain while saving time and money.

What is Quantum Computing?

Quantum computing harnesses the power of quantum physics to process data in a completely new way that allows these computers to solve problems up to 100 million times faster than traditional computers. Most ordinary computers use binary code, a series of ones and zeros, to transmit information. By contrast, QC uses numbers that exist in a fluid, non-binary state that are neither one nor zero but move back-and-forth on a spectrum. A helpful visual is to picture a coin spinning on a desk. While the coin spins, it is neither heads nor tails, but once it stops spinning, it will fall on either heads or tails. Likewise, the computer’s data exists as having multiple possibilities until the program is forced to make a decision. This principle of quantum uncertainty allows the computer to consider all probable outcomes at once instead of having to process each scenario individually.

As of now, quantum computers are not ready for mass-scale production. Their delicate infrastructures require highly controlled environments, and they need to be cooled down to as close to absolute zero (-459.67 °F) as possible. Each computer costs millions of dollars to produce, which creates another barrier to mass production. The excessive speed at which they operate causes a higher rate of errors than traditional computers make, but experts are working to improve accuracy. All things considered; quantum computing is still a powerful technology with enormous potential that most companies can access through service partners via the cloud. Leaders in this space, including IBM, Microsoft, Honeywell, Google, and several others are offering their own QC solutions for business.

Quantum Computing Applications for Supply Chain

As manufacturers incorporate more IoT sensors into their operations, they glean access to vast amounts of enterprise data. QC can handle complex, ever-changing variables within a decision-making model with a high degree of excellence. This ability to harmonize various types of data from different sources makes it especially useful for optimizing resource management and logistics within the supply chain.

One application for QC would be to improve dynamic inventory allocation as part of a post-merger integration.  Other uses for QC involve responding to and preparing for shifts in utility usage and demand. Quantum computing can help manufacturers govern their energy distribution, water usage, and network design. The technology’s precision allows it to be able to detail a very specific accounting of the energy used on the production floor in real-time. Microsoft has partnered with Dubai’s Electricity and Water Authority in a real-life example of using quantum for grid and utility management.

Optimizing Logistics

One of the most valuable applications of QC is in supply chain logistics, from scheduling and planning to routing and traffic simulations. Creating the optimal route for a large fleet can be a difficult task for traditional computers to handle. If a company has 20 shipments that could move over four possible delivery routes, that scenario creates over a trillion possibilities for a computer to rank. Volkswagen has already deployed QC for fleet management to optimize taxi routes in Beijing.

Variations on the classic “salesman problem,” or finding one of the best routes to reach every stop in the least amount time, form the basis for many optimization analyses.  With processing speeds up to 100 million times faster than traditional computers, quantum computers can run through multiple models simultaneously, making this technology is especially suited for optimizing the classic scenario by finding a highly efficient route in record time. This will become increasingly important as the trend of personalization in consumer goods continues and makes orders more complex.

Being knowledgeable about quantum computing applications can position a supply chain for success. Alongside AI, the IoT, and blockchain, QC is one of the many digital tools manufacturers can equip in order to streamline and optimize their processes.

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Coauthor and contributions by Sabrina Zirkle

Tags: Network Design and Inventory Optimization, Supply Chain Planning & Execution, Supply Chain Technology
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