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Quantum computers need more improvements before they can be practically used in everyday commercial operations in supply chains.

Relevance to the Future of Logistics

Fleet & Route Optimization

With last-mile delivery costs accounting for 53% of total shipping costs, logistics service providers focus keenly on optimizing this segment of the supply chain – especially by adjusting routes and delivery fleet size. While an optimized route with a handful of delivery stops can be determined relatively quickly by a desktop computer, it would take years for even a supercomputer to calculate an optimized route with dozens of stops and maybe additional parameters to be considered.

Quantum computers, however, use special properties from quantum mechanics to optimize an individual route with hundreds of stops within mere minutes. They can also calibrate routes across entire fleets to ensure deliveries are made in the best ways with the least number of vehicles. This means quantum computers can help lower delivery costs for logistics organizations, reduce CO2 emissions in last-mile travel, and improve the customer experience.

Container Optimization

It is relatively easy to maximize shipment loads in a rectangular container when the parcels and pallets are of uniform size. But this is challenging when the container is oddly shaped like an aircraft unit load device (ULD) and even more complicated when each item varies greatly by shape, volume, weight, and fragility.

Quantum computers will be able to optimize almost instantly the placement of thousands of parcels and pallets in containers headed for various destinations. And when each container is fully utilized, this lowers the cost and emissions per shipment and reduces the overall number of containers required for all shipments.

Rapid Simulation & Digital Twin Support

An advanced simulation of a complex digital twin or model requires an incredible amount of processing power but provides extremely useful information for decision making. Running several simulations to compare outputs can take days or even years using current computers, depending on the complexity. Instead, quantum computers can deliver in minutes, unlocking opportunities that benefit the supply chain both directly and indirectly.

On a microscale, quantum computers will enable the simulation of molecular-level chemical interactions and physical processes, spurring development and the manufacture of new materials and products like better vehicle batteries and biodegradable packaging that can impact and change the logistics industry. On a macroscale, quantum computers can help support digital twins and simulations of complicated supply chain networks with thousands of elements in a single model. Empowered by this technology, logistics planners can evaluate almost in real time various alternative scenarios, such as the unexpected closure of a warehouse, and support well-timed, informed decision making.

Quantum Internet & Data Protection

As logistics organizations store valuable personal and private information, like names, addresses, signatures, and orders, data protection is a high priority. But with malicious software and tools, hackers can intercept and read emails and other forms of digital communication travelling through fiber optic cables and other channels. Quantum computing can provide an extra layer of digital privacy and security to counteract hacking.

Due to inherent physical properties that differ from those of regular computers, quantum computing messages and keys are theoretically unhackable, with the mere act of interception immediately destroying the information and potentially raising an alarm. Fiber optic cable networks utilizing quantum keys have already been established in China and the US and are growing, establishing the beginnings of a quantum internet. In one step further, China has already launched a quantum satellite that can pass quantum encrypted messages between Beijing and Vienna and plans to launch more in the near future. With these communication developments in quantum computing, logistics providers can better protect customer data.

Challenges

Several technological breakthroughs – including more robust error correction – are still required for quantum computers to become practical and affordable for everyday use.
For day-to-day business use, it is more complex and time consuming to set up and access quantum computers than supercomputers.
Existing cybersecurity protocols may not provide adequate defense during a quantum-based attack; for example, brute-force hacking could be done exponentially faster.

This trend should be PASSIVELY monitored, with applications still mostly being developed or explored.

Outlook

Quantum Computing is advancing in a way that is similar to desktop computers in the second half of the 20th century, moving from laboratories to personal desks and subsequently into the cloud. Meanwhile, logistics organizations are starting to understand the potential supply chain benefits and use cases of the Quantum Computing trend. When quantum computers are ready for commercial use, supply chains will be able to unlock a new level of optimization, one that was previously unachievable.

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