The secret to supply chain visibility woes

These obstacles range from monitoring the environmental conditions and location of shipments to ensuring the safety of drivers and warehouses, all while making sure products are being moved efficiently from one place to another.

Through its ability to supply vast amounts of data about the product and its lifecycle, the Internet of Things (IoT) is poised to become an integral part of the supply chain. IoT-enabled devices can offer real-time insights into the different environments and assets of the growing global supply chain industry. The data IoT devices are collecting helps to optimise the supply chain to find cost savings and prevent loss throughout the product’s journey.

Monitoring shipments

One of the main challenges the supply chain and logistics market faces is a lack of end-to-end visibility. According to Statista, 21% of supply chain executives listed visibility as their biggest challenge more than any other factor. With numerous moving parts and different partners and suppliers involved, a single shipment will have over 200 interactions with more than 25 people. Only 6% of businesses currently have complete visibility into their supply chain, which means for the vast majority of companies, these interactions are going unmonitored. The siloes between the different stops along the fulfilment process is directly causing business inefficiency.

A data-driven approach could give businesses the information they need to make better-informed decisions on stocking, transport and various other aspects of the supply chain. The challenge with lack of visibility is that businesses risk the integrity of their products as they travel from suppliers to distributer, up until they reach the customer. Some goods are fragile or perishable so maintaining environmental conditions at optimal levels is paramount to reducing costs or waste, as well as possibly risking public health in the case of shipping pharmaceuticals. Industries like healthcare have regulatory compliances that companies need to follow, posing additional challenges if they cannot guarantee the safety of their products throughout the shipping process.

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A simple IoT-enabled device connected to a low-powered wireless network designed for IoT could be a solution to all these challenges. Unlike traditional networks, these networks offer widespread coverage with minimal energy usage, lifting barriers that have previously prevented the widespread adoption of the IoT within the supply chain. A sensor that is connected to this network and embedded in a storage unit can collect, compute and deliver real-time updates of the products’ conditions, including movements and changes in temperature. Further, because most companies don’t feel they need to know where their assets are at all times, but rather just at certain increments, the devices connected to this network are able to send small packets of information that don’t require much energy, resulting in low operating costs and extended battery life. With this kind of information, businesses can respond immediately if conditions are subpar, instead of waiting until a shipment arrives at its destination only to find out that it’s been ruined by a sudden increase in temperature.

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Another real-time notification an IoT-enabled device can compute and deliver is location. Normally, organisations are only notified when their shipments reach checkpoints, such as a seaport, but they don’t know their products’ locations when they are in transit. Having devices connected to the shipping containers throughout the entire supply chain gives businesses a full overview of what courses the shipping vehicles are taking to optimise the routes for faster delivery. The devices also allow businesses to identify warehouse delays, enabling them to address inefficiencies and optimise their logistics practices. With these devices, businesses can get information about their products wherever they are, allowing them to provide their customers with accurate arrival times.

Managing risk

Even when products aren’t on the move, they are still at risk. Warehouses have reported thieves that use mobile phone jammers that transmit signals that can overwhelm alarm systems making it easy to enter and steal substantial amounts of goods. However, a security system that is connected to an IoT network operates on radio signals that can’t be jammed, therefore reducing the risk of further monetary loss. In the case where the entire vehicle carrying a business’s products is stolen, the IoT sensors can also track location, allowing for easier and quicker recovery.

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Tracking the shipping vehicles also comes with additional benefits. It can help identify abnormal shipping behaviour – such as if a shipment is stuck in a warehouse for weeks at a time. This knowledge arms the shipment owner to proactively reach out and push the logistics provider to move the product, rather than forcing them to call around to various ports and warehouses searching for the shipment or waiting until the shipment resurfaces on its own.

In order to remain competitive and minimise loss, businesses should embrace the power of IoT in their supply chains. A complete and real-time view into the entire manufacturing and fulfilment process by way of connected devices can give business leaders the ability to make data-driven decisions to maximise the potential of the growing supply chain and logistics industry.

Written by Laetitia Jay, chief marketing officer, Sigfox

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