Using IoT to Enable Tomorrow’s Supply Chain

The Internet of Things (IoT) is starting to change warehouse and distribution services around the globe, with an estimated 5.5 million new devices being connected every day. The supply chain is next. Scary? Not really. Worthwhile? Absolutely.

Billions of traditional networking devices—including hubs, routers, servers, personal computers, and mobile phones—are already connected to the internet And in the supply chain sector, the IoT revolution is connecting non-traditional "things" such as pallets, lifts, and trailers, to the internet.

The potential benefits are impressive. These innovations could slash supply chain waste by $2.7 trillion over the next 10 years.

Because 96 percent of all companies are expected to be IoT users within the next three years, you will almost certainly be developing strategies and solutions if you haven’t already.

Consider this amazing fact—of all the things that could be connected to the internet, only 0.06 percent are. This yawning gap helps explain why the rate of increase for IoT connection should be 30 percent in 2016. Driving this rush is the fact that 94 percent of all businesses are expected to realize a return on their investment soon.

Even though some developments are still years away, the opportunity for IoT implementation exists today with market-ready devices that increase visibility and boost efficiency. These devices include:

Robots, which can operate 24/7, lights-out, with significant labor savings, can be introduced into warehouses with relatively inexpensive initial trials.

Autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) can fulfill orders, stock replenishment lines, and respond efficiently to warehouse demands.

Smart lift trucks stream data that permit the development of individual driver profiles for enhanced safety and training. Sensor-equipped lift trucks self-report collisions, and send alerts when mechanical problems arise.

Not only do you need to understand what the data is reporting, you also need to know what you will do with that information. It’s time to get to know providers of supply chain, cloud-based IoT platform integration tools that take in data from myriad sources in a variety of formats and deliver it to you in a single, manageable format.

As you establish near-term IoT initiatives, also keep an eye on what is likely to develop during the next three to five years. Precise asset/inventory location—using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to enable real-time tracking, positioning, guidance, and visibility—will be enhanced by the introduction of:

Heads-up displays in the form of lightweight glasses that overlay real-world views with task assignments, location and directional guidance, highlighted pick locations, picture-based SKU identification, and pallet optimization.

Drone yard management to verify trailer location and update yard management systems in real time.

Smart trailers for live tracking that enables end-to-end stock visibility, perishables temperature monitoring, and correct truck-trailer pairing.

Coming within a decade are driverless vehicles, operating singly or, more likely, in platoons and piloted by a manned vehicle.

Robots, AGVs, and smart lift trucks have matured sufficiently for immediate adoption and can provide significant savings while you develop your longer-term IoT vision.

The impetus for moving ahead with IoT strategies is strong because competitors around the world are already moving forward. If you doubt it, look to China, which is already the world’s largest industrial IoT implementer.

The United States, by the way, is second.

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