Article by: Jessa Blowell
The last several years have brought about a significant degree of change in industrial supply chains. While supply chains have always been adaptable to new technologies and other widespread shifts, the changes we’ve seen lately have been more sweeping and significant. And for the most part, they’ve come about as a result of the expansion of the Internet of Things.
With its ability to connect virtually innumerable sensors, devices, and vehicles on complex monitoring networks, the IoT is essentially providing new degrees of visibility and control in supply chains. For a more in-depth look at some of the positive changes we’ve seen though, here are four specific ways that the IoT has improved modern supply chains.
1. Store Inventory Management
In a way, it’s helpful to start with the IoT’s ability to help stores recognize their own needs — which on many occasions is what kicks off supply chain action. Speaking to this point, Forbes contributor Nikki Baird covered the IoT in retail a few years ago and mentioned the idea of omnichannel fulfillment as a benefit. By and large, this is the notion that technology can help a retail location to fulfill orders. More specifically though, the idea has to do with the broader application of the IoT in supply chains. Essentially, various in-store sensors and even product tracking elements can tap into the IoT to send signals when supply is low. This, in turn, can automatically set the supply chain fulfillment process in motion.
We just touched on the idea that in some cases production can be set in motion by other elements of an IoT-connected supply chain. But the production process can also be made more reliable, and in some cases more efficient. This is because some companies are now outfitting their actual production machinery with IoT capability, such that the machinery can relay information about its own performance. ZDNet’s Steve Ranger touched on this idea in an article seeking to explain the modern IoT. As Ranger put it, “Manufacturers are adding sensors to the components of their products so they can transmit data back about how they are performing.” In this case, Ranger was specifically referring to actual products — but the exact same process is being used with actual production equipment. Elements of machinery that are deteriorating or performing poorly will essentially transmit data that reveals the need for maintenance or repair. This makes it less likely that a machine performing poorly will churn out faulty products, and thus enhances quality control at the outset of the supply chain.
3. Vehicle Monitoring
Basic vehicle monitoring in supply chains has been practiced for a long time via GPS technology. However, more advanced tracking systems coupled with the Internet of Things have brought about a new age for vehicle monitoring. Jackson Hand’s article on Verizon Connect Australia about IVMS, or “in-vehicle monitoring systems,” provides far more comprehensive snapshots of vehicle performance in modern supply chains. Calling the boom in IVMS “unstoppable in Australia,” Hand explained that there are benefits in customer service, innovation, energy efficiency, and cost reduction. These benefits come from specific IoT-connected devices fitted to fleet vehicles in order to track GPS and monitor engine data. The devices then relay all relevant information back to the company, so that any issue — from driver performance to vehicle maintenance needs — can be noticed and dealt with. This keeps operations efficient and drivers safe.
4. Automated Vehicles
Advanced vehicle monitoring has already improved supply chain fleet performance in numerous ways. However, we still expect to see it paired increasingly with driverless vehicles in a bid to make supply chains even more efficient. We included driverless vehicles in a past article on ‘6 Trends in the Supply Chain 2017’ that we were seeing in this space, and even then it seemed as if we were inching toward more autonomous vehicles. Now these vehicles — fully connected to the IoT and integrated with supply chains — are even closer to taking the road on a broad scale. When they do, we’ll be that much closer to a fully automated, IoT-driven supply chain.
There are all sorts of additional ways in which IoT functions are making an impact on the modern supply chain. However, these four examples cover much of the process. They demonstrate clearly just how much this technology has already benefited these vital industry functions.