How can companies make the Internet of Things have a positive impact on their bottom line? One answer according to Toby Mills, CEO of Entopy, is an innovative new track and trace solution.
Delivery company DHL and tech giant Cisco estimated in 2015 that Internet of Things (IoT) technologies such as asset tracking solutions could have an impact of more than $1.9 trillion in the supply chain and logistics sector. IoT enables ‘smart objects’ to be active participants in self-steering, event-driven logistics and supply chain systems. As we enter the IoT age, almost everything in the supply chain will become Internet-addressable: ‘smart’ domestic fridges will order fresh milk, plant and machinery in factories will report on what capacity they have; smart shelves in the factory, warehouse or retail store will help ensure stock availability. Connected via Radio Frequency networks, these static units can keep reporting updates in real time.
‘Things’ in transit also need to be connected to the Internet. These include the goods themselves either at pallet, case or individual item level; and assets in which they travel whether in a truck, a roll cage or transit packaging. As these items move through the chain they only link to the IoT at the points where they can be scanned, so the data, despite being captured in realtime, is only a snapshot; it is not a complete, on-going live stream of the journey that the goods and assets are making through the chain. And this is where companies can make the IoT work for them and have a positive impact on their bottom line.
It needs an innovative new track and trace solution to connect supply chains to the IoT and provide the visibility that will enable managers to inspect and improve the condition of their supply chains.
One such solution is Tracca. Developed by Entopy, this system involves sensors that can be placed on, for example, roll cages as they travel through a supply chain. Because the sensors use cellular communications, unlike RFID tags, they do not require infrastructure to report back data to a dashboard application. This means supply chain managers will gather real time, any time information.
Furthermore, because the sensors include monitors for temperature and acceleration, managers can establish more facts about what happened to product in the supply chain. For instance, if a food delivery fell below a certain temperature for an hour between supplier and retailer, particularly where there is a third party involved in the distribution, it helps provide evidence to avoid chargebacks. The information allows supply chain managers to build a true picture of what is going on in their supply chain, finding out where the bottlenecks by showing where assets are being held when they should be on the move.
The clever bit with this technology is that the sensors communicate with each other so, if there are several sensors on roll cages in a lorry then only one sensor needs to transmit back to the cloud server, this extends battery life to months. Enabled to listen as well as talk, managers can change how the Tracca devices work instantly and remotely.
The IoT will push almost all systems towards being Web-based on Cloud platforms. The availability of real time data from every part of the supply chain will power other trends from analytics to autonomy and tend to close the gap between Supply Chain Planning and Execution.
Data from Tracca devices is collected securely in the Cloud. It is organised into databases and algorithms generate reports for display on a ‘dashboard’ application. There are about 20 of them from asset location to temperature, excessive acceleration leading to potential damage, usage, cycle time and many others. Reports and displays can be customised to meet user needs.
Big data offers massive potential to optimise capacity utilisation, improve customer experience and reduce risk, probably leading in some cases to new business models. Software in individual firms can contribute to, and learn from the larger data pool of that particular supply chain.
The thing about supply chain management is that you do need to ‘sweat the small stuff’ because it is the small changes and problems that, if uncommunicated and unacted upon, can clog up the chain, disappoint customers, increase costs, reduce or even eliminate profit and, ultimately, lose business. This is where the Internet of Things can really work for your business.
Costs of supply chain failure, damage and dispute can be avoided. But the Tracca solution can go further. With real knowledge of what assets are doing, bottlenecks and inefficiencies can be tackled. Managers can see how much time cages and totes are lying idle; and which customers are hanging on to them instead of sending them back. This might negate the purchase of more cages at £100 a time to cope with the Christmas peak by making better use of the existing fleet. Managers can examine cycle times and discover if there are regions or distribution centres that push assets through the system quickly while others run at a slower pace. Managers can see what actually happens to goods in store or in transit – do goods that are only on the road for an hour really need an expensive chill chain?
Armed with this kind of hard data instead of just instinct, managers can really start challenging inefficient practices.