Author: Jack Welch - March 14, 2017

Strategies for IoT in Logistics

Logistics and the Internet of Things

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Within my first two writings entitled, “What is the Internet of Things?” and “Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0”, I have done much to define what the Internet of Things is and how IoT will change the world … hopefully for the better.  The primary intention of my MGMT503-Directed Study course is to address the possibilities related to Supply Chain Optimization with IoT.  I will therefore commit more detailed attention to the application of IoT in business logistics and within supply chain management.  I will then close out this semester with an outline of low-cost devices as well as I/O communication strategies that will culminate in a capstone project which will simulate a simple IoT application in warehouse picking called “Pick to Light”.

I must have been moved by a website that I found while initially outlining the intentions of my research.  I came across a website for the Kaa IoT Development Platform on https://www.kaaproject.org.4 In fact, this website was used to completely outline the scope of this writing, “Strategies for IoT in Logistics”.  Kaa is a multi-purpose middleware platform which is open-source and free.  It is intended to be a rapid-development ecosystem which will encourage deployment of interconnected devices with maximum security and standardization.  Software development kits or SDKs are available to cut down on development time and to increase success with cross-device interoperability.

Real-Time Fleet Management

The Internet of Things is changing the way logistics companies operate today.  Fleet managers are now given greater visibility to their fleet performance and driver behavior.  GPS capability allows for location feedback; and, in many instances today, onboard cameras allow real-time visibility for managerial purposes as well as driver safety.  More and more, sensors are being deployed to monitor and to log truck engine conditions including oil and coolant temperature, odometer mileage, tire air pressure, vehicle speed, braking habits, truck idle time, cargo condition, and more.  The collection of performance data allows for management of scheduled and preventive maintenance routines, improved human resource management, improved mileage tracking for tax purposes, and other important administrative matters.  Ultimately, increased visualization allows for improvements in satisfaction to customers as well as with employees and vendors.

It is estimated that a billion gallons of diesel fuel each year are wasted due to excessive idling of trucks on our highways.  IoT can help to monitor and to control this problem as vehicles could be automatically shut down and turned-on with the return of the driver.  This type of IoT control would not only reduce unnecessary fuel consumption but the corresponding CO2 emissions that accompanies this habit.  Cleaner, greener operations can further be achieved by monitoring truck exhaust emissions, fuel efficiency, tune-up schedules, refrigeration performance, and more.

Nextraq.com appears to be a leading player in this market area offering fully integrated solutions for the management of a fleet of vehicles, both small and large.  Nextraq provides a complete visual dashboard displaying information about all your KPIs throughout your fleet.  With a quick visit to their website, we can see that Nextraq accomplishes all of what we have noted above, including fuel management, driver behavior, automatic driver assignment, asset tracking, metrics dashboard, and online driver education.  All of these services are made possible due to the lower cost of embedded smart sensors and the ability of these sensors to communicate back to a host computer via the internet … IoT.21

Smart Labels

I bet you think the bar codes and the QR codes that we find on packages are quite smart.  With the cost of manufacturing of integrated circuits dropping to pennies, it is now possible to embed (or “attach”) the full intelligence of a computer on shipping containers, the product cases, or even on the individual products themselves.  Smart labels today can monitor real-time positional information, product temperature, drop sensing, vandalism, moisture, humidity, and more.  Smart labels can be used to monitor for possible spoilage of perishable foods or medicines.  Further, smart labels can be used to monitor the flow of goods inside a supply chain so that delivery schedules are accurately predicted and/or alerted regarding delay.23

There is much that is possible in the concept of smart labeling.  When you consider that all intelligent devices are a complex circuit which can be drawn and created on a thin, flexible circuit board, anything is possible.  Remove the need to power a visual screen and power demands are reduced to a minimum.  Battery and power technology has certainly come far and the possibility of powering a smart label with a thin flexible source like a small solar panel is even possible.  Scholarly research has been taking place for close to a decade with an objective to produce thin, flexible lithium-ion batteries which can be embedded in paper.23  Today, companies like BrightVolt have emerged.  This company is a specialist in the creation of custom ultra-thin flexible batteries to support a host of possibilities.  Their specialty is servicing IoT applications to answer the power source needs for IoT wearables, medical devices, smart labels, smart cards, and more.24

Predictive Maintenance

A little has already been said about the advantages of preventive or predictive maintenance embedded within the advantages of real-time fleet management.  Historically, with the maintenance of just about any machine in the world, we have been forced to apply maintenance practices with a reactionary response when something breaks.  This results in unplanned down-time, a loss of productivity, dissatisfaction among stakeholders, workplace injuries, and more.  We are entering a world where the performance of shipping trucks, related assets, and all machines can be monitored to detect an out-of-normal operating condition.  Consider that most motors might begin to heat up before they fail.  Attach a temperature sensor and monitor that sensor over time and an alert can be triggered to warn a vehicle driver or fleet manager that action must be taken.  We are all familiar with the wide deployment of tire pressure sensors even within our personal vehicles.  Consider the possibility that these sensors could be connected to the internet and warnings can be triggered with a call to action that a tire failure might be pending.

What becomes possible here in the world of logistics is the emergence of a concept of “maintenance-as-a-service”.  We are seeing vehicle manufacturers and third party specialists in this field emerge with fully-integrated solutions offering turn-key installations of sensors as well as a virtual platform for analysis and visualization.  While the initial goal here is to reduce the total cost of fleet management by taking a more proactive approach to vehicle maintenance, might we one day see options for fully servitized logistics fleets? 25

Storage Conditions and Control & Cargo Integrity Monitoring

Consider further that a vehicle door hasn’t been locked that is intended to secure highly valuable cargo.  This status can be monitored and detected; and, again, alerts can be triggered, calling for intervention.  What about the integrity of your fleet’s refrigeration equipment?  Are drivers diligent and working quickly and safely with refrigerated products?  Has a fork truck dropped or driven into valuable inventory?  These are questions that are asked not only by fleet managers but by your customers upstream within your supply chain as well.  Data related to storage conditions and cargo integrity can not only be logged for historical record and process certification, but this data can now be communicated throughout the supply chain in real-time should we choose to do so.  Historically, we managers may have preferred not to communicate a significant problem that occurs for fear of the financial loss, when in fact the financial loss due to a problem with cargo integrity is small considering the related costs.  Consider the possibility of creating increased confidence in your management skills not only within your company but with important stakeholders.  The best course of action when a problem occurs is to be visible about this problem and “Own it”!  Allow too for the possibility that your customer’s production cycles could be alerted to respond to this out-of-normal situation; and thus, upstream impact is minimized, so too is your customer’s concern related to your “accident”.

Optimized Warehouse Workloads & Inventory Tracking and Analytics

Much can be written on this topic alone and entire studies can be committed to the optimization of warehouse workloads.  From a logistical point-of-view, we are primarily interested in a macroscopic point of view of warehouse workloads; thus, we are interested in the capacities of these interconnected warehouses as well as the planned inputs and outputs of these warehouses.  A logistical study would be interested in how well the flow of goods forms a “stream-like” pattern where warehouse capacities are optimized and the flow of goods remains uninterrupted.

With the Internet of Things, the possibilities here are at our finger tips.  We can now complete a full study which will identify the key performance indicators of a flow of goods within our logistics network.  We can deploy sensors, switches, GPS trackers, smart labels, wearable devices and more on our vehicles, warehouse doors, fork trucks, personnel, and more.  We can collect the data drawn from these devices, load it into a data warehouse, and we can create visualizations which are limitless.  The need for alerts can be defined and these alerts can be programmed for delivery just about anywhere.  Not long ago, our alert may have been limited to a blinking light and/or a loud horn.  Now we can alert managers and interconnected/co-dependent processes.

End-to-End Visibility of Delivery Process

Losant is another major player in the field of connected logistics solutions.  In fact, Losant identifies that “The transportation and logistics industry was one of the earliest adopters of Internet of Things technologies. This is due to the large number of sensors in current supply chains and the quick ROI achieved by implementing connected solutions.”  Losant is a specialist in providing end-to-end visibility of the delivery process by offering a production-ready platform for IoT enablement.  The Losant platform promotes standardization, device interconnectivity, and security within their automation systems.  This is vitally important as we noted in the opening of this study.  The successful growth of the Internet of Things in all industries will learn much from what is being accomplished in the logistics industry.  Software development time is being minimized through standardized libraries.  Inter-operability will be maximized through standardization.  Collected data formats will be standardized for optimum storage and analysis.  And finally, the data visualization will be useful and understandable to all those who contribute throughout the management of the delivery process.

References

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