We look towards the future of digital disruption by considering the past of disruption, with a particular focus on the production and movement of goods. We introduce the notion of the ‘smith’, and consider how, by localizing the provision, or supply, a ‘smith’ can ensure high added value for their skills. Using analogies from pull and push supply chains, We argue that our future economy needs to include an environment where smiths prosper. From craft coffee to craft software, to add value in a global marketplace we argue that we need to exploit localization.
Supply Chain 
On Sunday mornings in Sheffield, I often used to run across Packhorse Bridge in Burbage valley. The bridge is part of an ancient network of trails crossing the Pennines that, before Turnpike roads arrived in the 18th century, was the main way in which goods were moved. Given that the moors around Sheffield were home to sand quarries, tin mines, lead mines and the villages in the Derwent valley were known for nail and pin manufacture, this wasn’t simply movement of agricultural goods, but it was the infrastructure for industrial transport.
The profession of leading the horses was known as a Jagger and leading out of the village of Hathersage is Jagger’s Lane, a trail that headed underneath Stanage Edge and into Sheffield.
The movement of goods from regions of supply to areas of demand is fundamental to our society. The physical infrastructure of supply chain has evolved a great deal over the last 300 years.
Richard Arkwright is known as the father of the modern factory system. In 1771 he set up a Mill for spinning cotton yarn in the village of Cromford, in the Derwent Valley. The Derwent valley is relatively inaccessible. Raw cotton arrived in Liverpool from the US and India. It needed to be transported on packhorse across the bridleways of the Pennines. But Cromford was a good location due to proximity to Nottingham, where weavers where consuming the finished thread, and the availability of water power from small tributaries of the Derwent river for Arkwright’s water frames which automated the production of yarn from raw cotton.
By 1794 the Cromford Canal was opened to bring coal in to Cromford and give better transport to Nottingham. The construction of the canals was driven by the need to improve the transport infrastructure, facilitating the movement of goods across the UK. Canals, roads and railways were initially constructed by the economic need for moving goods. To improve supply chain.
The A6 now does pass through Cromford, but at the time he moved there there was merely a track. The High Peak Railway was opened in 1832, it is now converted to the High Peak Trail, but it remains the highest railway built in Britain.
Containerization has had a dramatic effect on global economics, placing many people in the developing world at the end of the supply chain.
For example, you can buy Wild Alaskan Cod fished from Alaska, processed in China, sold in North America. This is driven by the low cost of transport for frozen cod vs the higher relative cost of cod processing in the US versus China. Similarly, Scottish prawns are also processed in China for sale in the UK.
This effect on cost of transport vs cost of processing is the main driver of the topology of the modern supply chain and the associated effect of globalization. If transport is much cheaper than processing, then processing will tend to agglomerate in places where processing costs can be minimized.
Large scale global economic change has principally been driven by changes in the technology that drives supply chain.
Supply chain is a large-scale automated decision making network. Our aim is to make decisions not only based on our models of customer behavior (as observed through data), but also by accounting for the structure of our fulfilment center, and delivery network.
Many of the most important questions in supply chain take the form of counterfactuals. E.g. “What would happen if we opened a manufacturing facility in Cambridge?” A counter factual is a question that implies a mechanistic understanding of a system. It goes beyond simple smoothness assumptions or translation invariants. It requires a physical, or mechanistic understanding of the supply chain network. For this reason, the type of models we deploy in supply chain often involve simulations or more mechanistic understanding of the network.
In supply chain Machine Learning alone is not enough, we need to bridge between models that contain real mechanisms and models that are entirely data driven.
This is challenging, because as we introduce more mechanism to the models we use, it becomes harder to develop efficient algorithms to match those models to data.
Cooper, Brian. 1991. Transformation of a Valley: Derbyshire Derwent. Scarthin Books.