5 ways the Internet of Things is revolutionizing the supply chain

Today’s e-commerce explosion and evolving consumer demands are accelerating the adoption of IoT technologies in the supply chain. Organizations need to deliver the right quantity of product, at the right time, in the right condition, to the right location.

Here are 5 use cases for logistics and how IoT has changed the way companies are doing business in an increasingly connected world.

1. Shifting from pallets to packages

For decades, shipping companies and manufacturers transported products in containers or pallets straight to a retailer’s distribution center. But that practice is changing as companies deliver packages and items directly to the consumer.

As a result, keeping tabs on individual items and providing customers real-time visibility into the supply chain requires instrumentation and visibility at the item and package level. This is a capability that only IoT technology can provide.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons are the most cost-effective technology for achieving real-time visibility into supply chain assets and inventory. Acting as digital barcodes, but without requiring manual scanning, BLE beacons provide continuous information on the identity, location, and environmental condition of supply chain assets, including temperature, shock and humidity. By 2021 it’s estimated that 380 million BLE beacons will be used for asset visibility solutions in the supply chain.

Supermarket cold chain logistics

2. Tracking more than just location

There is a wide range of applications for BLE sensors. For example, cold chain logistics involves managing the flow of products from origin to destination in a temperature- controlled supply chain, requiring an uninterrupted series of refrigerated production, distribution, and storage activities.

For pharmaceutical companies, a security breach represents one of the most expensive operating costs in its cold chain. Although security breaches are rare, a pharmaceutical company must destroy its entire shipment when they happen.

However, using BLE sensors, pharmaceutical companies can continuously monitor the shipping conditions of items during transit, and take any necessary actions proactively. This data can then be downloaded over a BLE link for analysis to ensure compliance with industry regulations.

3. Reducing waste

Another application for BLE sensors is transportation. IoT-enabled trucks and shipping containers provide real-time insights into the location and condition of products throughout the supply chain. For example, WalMart recently launched Eden, an intelligent food system designed to ensure fresh produce throughout the company’s thousands of retail stores.

Deployed in 43 distribution centers, Eden uses sophisticated machine learning (ML) technologies throughout the supply chain. These ML technologies are combined with an algorithm that crunches USDA food product specifications, WalMart’s own strict product standards, and more than a million photos to prioritize the flow of perishable goods worldwide.

The system is helping WalMart optimize the delivery of one of its best-selling grocery items, the banana. With Eden, WalMart can monitor the temperature of shipping containers and the ripeness of bananas they’re carrying. If necessary, Eden can reroute the containers to a closer store so the bananas don’t arrive too ripe. Using Eden, an IoT-enabled food distribution system, WalMart hopes to eliminate $2 billion in food waste over the next five years.

4. Safer, fresher food with improved asset visibility

BLE sensors and IoT-powered asset tracking can not only reduce food waste and damage, but it can also prevent major catastrophes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in six Americans gets sick from contaminated foods or beverages, leading to 3,000 deaths each year. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that foodborne illnesses cost $15.5 billion each year.

Smart devices for asset tracking allow companies across the retail, agriculture and manufacturing industries to:

  • Minimize product loss
  • Glean accurate analytics on how products are selling
  • Determine real-time geographic location of products
  • Receive data on a package’s condition, such as whether it’s been opened

5. Better inventory management with real-time freight shipment visibility

IoT technologies help organizations more accurately manage their inventory by augmenting established technologies, such as barcodes.

However, IoT technologies allow organizations to track inbound and outbound inventory at a more granular level by providing real-time visibility into when inventory will arrive, or experience delays. This information allows organizations to better predict future inventory requirements, react quickly to real-time customer demands, eliminate surplus inventory and increase the efficiency of employees. Vehicles are also made more efficient, as tracking is used to measure the capacity of each load to determine a vehicle’s spare capacity and optimize travel routes for better fleet efficiency and reduced fuel consumption.

If necessary, the company can then re-route shipments to ensure on-time delivery and know precisely when a product will arrive at a loading dock or port.

Delivery chain logistics

Interested in learning more about asset visibility?

View our webinar 'Magic or Reality: Supply Chain Visibility across Channels

In this webinar, Zebra and Arm have shared insights on:

  • Why omnichannel needs digitization?
  • Visions of a true omnichannel experience
  • Key digital challenges and technology requirements to achieve true omnichannel
  • 3 things to consider in the next 6-12 months

We’ve also contributed to an RIS News special report: “Omnichannel Supply Chain: The Customer-First Imperative”, exploring three of the hottest topics in supply chain today: hyper localization, last-mile innovation and collaboration. Download the special report at RIS News now!