Companies in the supply chain industry have traditionally relied on manual processes and touchpoints to track goods and equipment as they travel through the supply chain. The problem with this approach is the lack of visibility that supply chain managers have when goods and assets are between touchpoints. Blind spots in the supply chain leave businesses open to cargo loss or spoilage, as well as under-utilized fleets and higher-than-necessary operation costs. This year has seen added pressure on the supply chain to continue to deliver goods in the face of a global pandemic, making it even more critical for businesses to increase efficiency and be accountable for the integrity of the goods they carry.
IoT sensor technologies are becoming the eyes of the supply chain
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making a big impact on how the supply chain sector operates, helping to solve traditional pain points by providing real-time visibility from end-to-end through the supply chain.
More specifically, new IoT sensor technologies are emerging that enable transportation and logistics companies to essentially “see” inside their trailers and containers and monitor the condition and status of the cargo. From tracking environmental conditions and security to spatial utilization and movement, IoT sensors are making it possible to account for every stage – or even every minute - of a journey. The sensors are designed to ‘react’ to their environment by detecting condition changes and transmitting data in near real-time to a cloud-based software platform for processing.
Real-time visibility means better business decisions
Many IoT solutions are wireless and use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology for connectivity, making it possible collect data from multiple end points and send that data back to an IoT cellular gateway. If a cellular connection is lost, most IoT devices also have the capacity to store the data until a connection is reestablished and the data can be transmitted. As technology evolves, IoT devices are also becoming smaller than ever, making them easy to deploy anywhere inside a trailer. For example, one type of cargo sensor that measures available linear footage can be installed along the ceiling of a trailer to capture and report on the percentage of available floor space at any given time. Companies can use this information to make better, real-time decisions about routing, so trailer usage is optimized, and empty drive miles are reduced.
Transparency is in demand
Demand for transparency in the supply chain is on the rise, and IoT sensors are able to deliver real-time data that will help partners be more accountable for their products. This is expected to be especially important for the agricultural market, as there is growing pressure to be able to track goods from farm to table (or at least to the grocery store) to ensure the quality and integrity the products. We’re now seeing IoT sensor technologies being deployed in farms to monitor everything from soil conditions and barn temperatures to irrigation schedules and livestock health. Once farm goods are loaded into a trailer for transport, the next step in the supply chain continues to capture data like temperature and humidity, helping to ensure the integrity of the products and prevent spoilage. Over the next five years, it is expected that the supply chain sector will see the demand for IoT sensors grow as industry participants continue to push for full supply chain accountability and transparency.
Where sensors are the eyes, artificial intelligence is the brains
While artificial intelligence (AI) is already being used in the supply chain industry, to help companies plan driving routes that avoid areas at a high risk of theft or crashes for example, it seems inevitable that AI will play a much greater role in the near future. As the use of IoT sensor technology increases, supply chain managers will have access to an incredible amount of data – way too much data for a human to ever consume or find useful. This is where AI becomes a critical component of any IoT solutions, as it has the ability to aggregate the data and providing users with actionable insights. Amongst other things, AI will be responsible for identifying trends and predicting outcomes, such as the number of goods needed in the market per month, as well as cross checking recent data with historical data, to understand business trajectories and help companies stay on a path of growth.
How will these technologies impact the industry in the future?
As the demand for transparency and efficiency increases, IoT sensor technology and artificial intelligence will become essential components in the supply chain. For early adopters, an initial investment in the infrastructure may come at a considerable investment but it also offers a competitive advantage. Companies will be able to move cargo in a safe and efficient manner while increasing asset utilization and ultimately cutting costs. As the supply chain embraces these emerging technologies, costs will come down as IoT hits critical mass and are more widely used.
There is always some fear that automation of any kind will result in lost jobs, but it seems unlikely that there would be any substantial loss in the supply chain. Until the day that trucks are driverless, and trailers can load themselves, workers will still be a critical part of the industry - and there will also be a need for new roles to help make use of the data analytics.
When it comes to the supply chain, companies should always know where their goods are and how they are faring in transit. As IoT sensor technology and AI continue to evolve, the supply chain management sector will continue becoming more transparent and more efficient.