IoT Helping to Automate Supply Chains
Daniel Butler - Tue, 5 Apr 2016
- One of the main opportunities in IIoT is improved visibility
- There are many practical applications already
- Supply chain operations will benefit greatly
- Logistics in general will receive a boost
One of the major advantages the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will deliver for supply chain operations is improved visibility. Start-to-finish visibility has always been the ultimate objective of supply chain managers who recognize that it would significantly improve efficiency and drive down costs.
The potential applications of IoT technology is so varied and wide-reaching that it is hard to imagine what many of them will be – at this moment in time.
What we do know is that in the field of logistics the IIoT is already proving to have practical applications. Ever since the invention of the concept, with the advent of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), the capability to track items and quickly take inventory was recognized as a massive benefit.
And presently, with everyday objects having the ability to collect and exchange date with each other and with networks, visibility into supply chain operations is now a simple matter of deciding what you want it – the technology exists to supply as much information as you could ever need.
As a recent Deloitte IIoT research paper explains: “Modern supply chain management can not only be about getting products faster, cheaper, and of better quality but also about getting managers the right information at the right time, so that they can better make informed supply chain decisions.” So how can the IIoT improve efficiency at dock operations and the scheduling process?
Having trucks waiting around to be loaded or unloaded at busy distribution centres is costly. Delays at the docks are a problem for truck drivers who have limited work hours, and who get paid by the load. Chronic delays can also result in poor relations with the haulers you rely on to move your freight.
Insufficient information concerning the loading and unloading of shipments makes the efficient scheduling of labour very difficult. Dock scheduling is not a new concept, but with the availability of exact, real-time tracking information, together with traffic congestion data, it has the potential to save companies millions in their logistical processes. This is especially the case for companies who do not own the trucks and therefore cannot leverage the benefits of a Transport Management System (TMS).
Companies will not have to rely on the truck driver to report the changes to his arrival time at the docks, instead the information will be communicated from an app that is tracking his truck, allowing the company to better manage their priorities and adapt to the changeable arrivals at the docks automatically. Also, the company can use mobile apps linked to the centralised scheduling system to notify working employees of when and where they need to be.
We are currently seeing an increasing number of fully automated warehouses that de-palletize or palletize loads without human intervention. Eventually companies will be able to automate the entire supply chain, providing efficient execution tools and visibility. This will not only be achieved by using conventional integration methods between information systems but also with innovative complementary devices such as mobile technology and IoT.
The demand is already mounting for tracking and auditing. Programs such as Europe’s Farm-to-Fork (F2F) are government backed initiatives aimed at augmenting consumer safety through improved tracking and auditing tools. Importers are finding it hard to identify cost efficient ways to track and audit orders that involve several players. It will still be very difficult to achieve perfect supply chain visibility but the potential for automating and tracking the entire ordering process is realizable.
The loss of productivity and inventory, wasted time and unnecessary movement are all problems characteristic of modern logistics operations that can be rectified, or at least significantly diminished, through the use of IIoT technologies.
In modern logistics operations the ability to track items and quickly take inventory has long been recognized as a massive advantage. The potential application of IIoT technologies in automating the supply chain promises to improve efficiency and productivity dramatically.