From paper to potash, disruptions in the supply chain continue to bedevil corporations and consumers. And after more than two years of these near-constant delays and backlogs, it’s clear that real-time data and smart analytics are required to give companies a clear line of sight of what is happening — all along the logistics pipeline.
Enter Supply A.I. Originally conceived at the outset of the coronavirus emergency by the federal government, the Government of Quebec and MaRS in partnership with Scale AI, the Supply A.I. program supports a cohort of 12 promising Canadian ventures working to solve supply-chain problems through artificial intelligence. Over several months, each company receives tailored coaching from MaRS experts with the goal of scaling products, creating jobs, attracting investment and growing brand awareness.
“The pandemic has exposed massive fault lines in our supply chains, and this cohort of A.I. innovators are working overtime to solve many of these problems” says Jon Dogterom, senior vice president of Venture Services at MaRS. “The partnership will accelerate and ultimately strengthen supply chains here in Canada.”
Supply chains are intricate webs, composed of makers, buyers, sellers, transporters, policymakers and, of course, everyday customers.That means the smallest disruption can affect millions of people at a time. But that also means any solution has the potential to benefit those people, too.
Enlisting robots to perform dangerous and time-consuming tasks; automating jobs in the face of labour shortages; predicting a rise or fall in demand; unearthing hidden efficiencies to prevent greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from ever leaving the factory. These are the kinds of solutions that are helping strengthen supply chains.
Here are 12 homegrown startups and scale-ups tackling the world’s supply woes.
What it does: Audette Analytics has an ambitious goal: the Victoria company aims to build a carbon-reduction plan for every building — on the planet. Audette’s automated micro-targeting tools relay performance information to a central dashboard, advising users on how to meet environmental targets. The tech is best-suited for real estate professionals, as well as regulators, financiers and equipment manufacturers.
Why it’s important: Audette is ahead of the curve. The company asserts that 82 percent of the international economy is already targeting net zero, representing something like 2 billion individual buildings and all the jobs and deals that come with them.
What it does: Bluicity digitizes logistics chains for the food and pharma industries, which improves operations, reduces labour and risk, and decreases spoilage and waste. The company permanently attaches its tracking devices to the pallets, bins and barrels in which goods are shipped. These sensors then track the goods and offer notifications and insights to clients.
Why it’s important: In January, Statistics Canada found that grocery-store prices had increased by 5.7 percent (the biggest rise since 2011); and food-price inflation is expected to increase up to 7 percent this year. Bluicity’s tech has the potential to help vendors navigate this volatile market.
What it does: Markham’s Cyberworks Robotics retrofits manually-operated machinery (such as wheelchairs, industrial tuggers and floor cleaners) into A.I.-powered self-driving technology. Such tools are ideal for heavy industry and commercial real estate, as well as hospitals, airports and greenhouses.
Why it’s important: The company’s tech takes human error out of the operating equation, meaning safer and more efficient work. It also allows clients to keep their existing fleets while equipping them with data-collection software.
What it does: Gray Routes AI can’t predict the future, per se, but it comes pretty close. The company provides solutions that can “sense” demand in real time for clients in such varied sectors as packaged goods, aerospace and retail. Fully-automated and cloud-secure, these innovations are operating in about 10 countries, cultivating more than 1 million data feeds monthly.
Why it’s important: Supply-chain disruptions have the power to quite literally draw millions of consumers into a simultaneous rage. This tech salvages customer experience, saves both suppliers and clients money, and lessens the emissions coming from excess production and delivery.
What it does: Toronto company Indie Tech wants to bring renewed trust and transparency back to financial consulting via automation. Its open marketplace recommends vetted, expert consultants tailored to client needs, while also delivering data insights and project-management help.
Why it’s important: According to Indie Tech, the global consulting industry is worth $609 billion. And yet, hiring the right supplier — one that is experienced, mission-driven and clear about financial goals — remains a hurdle for veterans in this space. By helping to quantify vendor risk, Indie Tech is on its way to retiring that problem.
What it does: With offices in Ottawa and Calgary, Lim Geomatics specializes in geospatial software. Its use of LiDAR (lasers that detect and measure objects), helps logging companies plan, plant and harvest.
Why it’s important: Trees are a big part of the Canadian way of life. About nine percent of the world’s forests are in Canada, while the estimated value of forest exports is $33 billion. Canada is also becoming a role model in mass timber construction — for GHG reduction, but also for architectural aesthetics. Lim Geomatics stands to make great gains by modernizing this space while also boosting local economies.
What it does: Moselle’s supply-chain management platform streamlines the sourcing, ordering and scheduling of goods from suppliers. The key saving here is time, which frees up clients’ teams to focus on product development and customer acquisition — the areas that ultimately grow a business.
Why it’s important: Moselle’s solution is particularly useful for small-business owners who suffer from supply-chain instability, yet have far fewer resources than corporations.
What it does: Based in Hamilton, Preteckt Canada uses smart computers to maintain and repair vehicles with 94-percent precision and a 40-percent increase in efficiency, resulting in more than 2 million collective tonnes of GHGs avoided annually.
Why it’s important: The venture’s automated decision-making — backed by semi-supervised human work — increases safety, reliability and vehicle uptime. This is particularly helpful for Canada’s transition to net zero, as Preteckt Canada focuses on electric, hydrogen and diesel trucks and buses.
What it does: Sudbury-based Symboticware provides insights and data analytics on the performance of mobile assets — particularly, large trucks and construction vehicles for the mining, forestry, agriculture, and oil and gas sectors.
Why it’s important: To mitigate supply issues everywhere, some experts have posited the need for greater domestic production. That means more reliability, and it also means more local jobs and far fewer GHGs emitted. But that shift is going to cost a lot, and both public and private actors will need to rely on products such as those of Symboticware to ease the transition.
What it does: Synkar Autonomous of Oshawa makes self-driving delivery robots for indoors and outdoors. Each little helper is equipped with cameras, radars and ultrasonic sensors to collect information about and react to the environment.
Why it’s important: As it stands, most first- and last-mile delivery is heavily reliant on human work. Synkar Autonomous robots evade such roadblocks — handy, too, for promoting physical distancing.
What it does: Operating out of Toronto, Taiga Robotics aims to reinvent warehouses and factories with its fleet of A.I.-powered pick-and-place robots. Each robot (AKA PTeR) is available to rent and can perform handling duties such as packaging, kitting, sorting, etc.
Why it’s important: Warehouses and factories have been hotbeds for coronavirus transmission. Automating tasks limits human contact and keeps workforces safe. It also assumes responsibility for boring and time-consuming tasks, freeing up existing employees for more meaningful work.
What it does: Vigilant AI, headquartered in Ottawa, ensures that vendors are charged exactly the right amount before it must be paid. It does this by applying novel software that can read documents far faster than human analysts and auditors. What typically takes a year or more can now be completed within a month.
Why it’s important: Vendors had a tough go these last two years. And as the gatekeepers of international products, these businesses are essential in maintaining a smooth exchange of goods and services, as well as to generate jobs.
Canada is experiencing its greatest innovation boom ever. MaRS sits at the fulcrum of that progress. Read our latest to Impact Report to learn more.