Guest Column | February 10, 2020

3 Ways The IoT Makes The Supply Chain Smarter

By Megan R. Nichols

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The world grows more complex, more densely populated and more demanding of products and services by the day. Our supply chains are slowly evolving to meet these demands, but the transformations required are significant in scale. They also rely on value-added resellers who respect and understand what modern technology has to offer their supply chain partners.

VARs who want to know where technology is going in the supply chain industry need to follow Internet of Things developments closely. This family of smart technologies is already having a positive and even transformative impact on supply chain workflows and is delivering encouraging returns on investments.

But what are the specific benefits for the supply chain? And why should VARs care? Here are three points to keep in mind as you consider incorporating the IoT into your VAR technology and services portfolio.

1. IoT Provides Unprecedented Supply Chain Visibility

The IoT makes it possible to gather insights into each product’s supply chain journey, from factory to end user. In a world that increasingly demands a transparent and ethical global supply chain, IoT devices provide traceability for shipments anywhere they travel in the world.

Just as importantly, companies can engage in data-logging with unprecedented detail and accuracy for shipments while they’re in transit. RFID tags have been, and continue to be, useful for tracking freight and other assets. But IoT data loggers provide in-transit data on shipments, and not just basic details about when freight leaves or arrives at a facility.

Instead, the IoT provides visibility for all the products moving within the supply chain, both before they reach your clients’ hands as well as after freight departs again. The data points surfaced by data loggers include precise location information, rate of travel, estimated time of arrival and details on the package’s physical condition. Sensors have never been more affordable, nor the data they collect more useful.

2. IoT Facilitates Automation And Provides Insight Into Critical Equipment

Value-added resellers know better than anybody how critical material handling equipment is to the supply chain. From simple stop-and-go conveyors to automated sortation equipment, robotic palletizers, shuttles and more, there are tons of options for introducing a lot or a little intelligence into supply chain equipment and infrastructure.

The Internet of Things makes automation possible. Robotic palletizers, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and unmanned lift trucks use the entire available “web” of IoT data to help them operate in harmony with the surrounding supply chain or warehousing environment. AGVs moving product in a warehouse might use location beacons, cameras and sensors to operate safely. Meanwhile, automated material handling equipment gathers real-time operational data to maintain an appropriate flow of products relative to other processes upstream and downstream.

Even legacy equipment can benefit from intelligence-boosting IoT technology retrofit kits. Predictive maintenance is one example. Applying sensors and edge computing capabilities lets palletizers, lift trucks, conveyors and sortation equipment gather machine telemetry and condition data as it’s running. In turn, this provides advanced warning to personnel before individual parts or a whole machine fails.

The clear benefit of machine-level intelligence is the strong likelihood of avoiding downtime altogether and thereby protecting business profits. Better equipment health equals better machine longevity overall, meaning fewer replacements over time.

Predictive maintenance via the IoT also can help maximize spare parts budgets by optimizing their useful lifetimes within critical machines. Historically, maintenance personnel would replace essential parts proactively to avoid failure, but this is far from the most cost-effective option now that IoT technology is more widely available.

3. IoT Fuels Smart Logistics Platforms

One of the best value-adding features of IoT technology in the supply chain is that it fuels smart logistics and predictive modeling from one end of an operation to the other. Smart logistics platforms use data gathered by IoT devices to accomplish several things at once:

  • Generate timely and accurate forecasts and arrival estimates to keep partners and stakeholders on the same page
  • Provide delay reports based on the status of ongoing processes, like trucking or warehousing operations
  • Incorporate enterprise wide data, including customer trends and historical demand, to provide strategic insights into where and when to stage freight to meet customer demand on time

You can think of the Industrial Internet of Things as the sensory components of the modern supply chain. That makes smart logistics platforms the brain behind the operation that receives this sensory data, processes it and automatically files data that’s relevant to quality control, traceability or legal compliance.

This degree of data mobility helps supply chain entities react appropriately and promptly when they detect or forecast disruptions and to reduce the cost and likelihood of delays. Doing so is essential because, according to research, 2016 saw around 70 percent of companies experience one or more supply chain delays.

Smart logistics is valuable downstream, too, by providing extremely accurate delivery timelines and real-time alerts. The latter is useful whether things are going precisely to plan or there’s an emerging issue that needs a manager’s or engineer’s intervention.

What Vars Must Recognize About Supply Chain Technology

Supply chain companies that want to adopt IoT solutions and smart logistics platforms need to know they’ve made the right choice in partnering with a value-added reseller. Providing that level of assurance requires VARs to understand new technologies inside and out.

You don’t need to know every nitty-gritty detail about how they work, but you do need a strong enough grasp on the fundamentals that you can explain in clear language how it adds value to an operation. With any luck, this guide gave you a better understanding of the technology out there today and how it can deliver powerful insights and streamline even industrial-scale operations.

About The Author

Megan R. Nichols is an industrial writer for sites like Thomas and IoT Evolution World. Megan also publishes easy to understand manufacturing articles on her personal blog, Schooled By Science. Keep up with Megan by subscribing to her blog.