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  March 28th, 2016 | Written by

How the Internet of Things Will Help Automate Supply Chains

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  • Visibility has been the holy grail of supply chain managers who know it will enable efficiencies and lower costs.
  • IoT logistics applications will be so various that we cannot yet imagine what many of them will be.
  • The IoT is already proving to have useful applications in the realm of logistics.

One of the primary benefits the Internet of Things (IoT) will deliver for supply chain operations is improved visibility. End-to-end visibility has long been the holy grail of supply chain managers who know that it will enable efficiencies and drive down costs.

IoT applications will be so various that we cannot yet imagine what many of them will be.

What we do know is that in the realm of logistics the IoT is already proving to have useful applications. Ever since the invention of the concept, with the advent of RFID, the ability to track items and quickly take inventory was recognized as a massive boon.

And now, with everyday ordinary objects having the means to communicate with each other and with networks, visibility into supply chain operations is now simply a matter of deciding that you want it; the technology exists to deliver as much information as you likely could ever need.

As a recent Deloitte IoT research paper points out: “Modern supply chain management can be not only 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.”

How can the Internet of Things bring value to dock operations and scheduling process?

At a busy distribution center there are costs associated with having trucks waiting around to be loaded or unloaded. Delays at the docks mean trouble for truck drivers who have limited hours in which to work, and get paid by the load. Chronic delays also can lead to poor relations with the carriers you count on to move your freight.

The lack of information about when shipments need to be loaded or unloaded makes efficiently scheduling of labor nearly impossible. Dock scheduling is not new, but with the availability of pinpoint-accurate, real-time tracking information, coupled with traffic congestion data, it has the potential to save companies big money in their logistics processes; especially for companies who don’t own the trucks and thus cannot leverage the benefits of a TMS.

You won’t have to rely on the human truck driver to check in with changes to his arrival time at the docks, but will get that information from an app that’s tracking his truck, allowing you to better manage your priorities and shuffle the arrivals at your docks automatically. Likewise, your own personnel who are at work can be readily located and notified of where they need to be, and when, using mobile apps linked to the central scheduling system.

We are seeing an increasing number of fully automated warehouses that de-palletize or palletize loads without human intervention. It may not be long until we see unmanned forklifts too. The day will come when companies will be able to automate the entire supply chain, providing efficient execution tools and visibility. This will be achieve not only by using traditional integration methods between information systems since complementary devices such as mobile technology and the Internet of Things will play a big part in this.

The demand is already there for tracking and auditing. Widely publicized programs, such as Farm-to-Fork, are initiatives by government agencies to augment consumer safety through better tracking and auditing tools. Importers are struggling to find cost efficient means to track and audit orders that are touched by several players. Perfect supply chain visibility is still difficult to achieve, but the potential for automating and tracking the entire ordering process is before us.

Wasted time and movements, lost productivity and inventory—these are all problems inherent in modern logistics operations that can be addressed through the use of IoT technologies.