How the Supply Chain is Becoming More Connected Through the IoT and Smart Technology

It looks like the world is in for another industrial revolution as the global supply chain welcomes new developments brought about by the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart technology.

The manufacturing landscape has become so competitive that industry executives have started scrambling to find ways to keep up with the latest tech and business innovations. And because the entire process of manufacturing, delivering, and distribution has long been prone to human error, the emergence of smart tech to help prevent it is quite a welcome change.

Altogether, the technology, dubbed the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), has the potential to lead factories towards becoming smarter, deliveries becoming faster, and manufacturing becoming a lot cheaper. These are only some of the potential changes, but in the future, consumers and companies may see bigger developments.

Small changes, big difference

For one, factory machineries, old and new, may start to incorporate sensors and intelligent controls that can generate data, send it over the internet, and improve the efficiency of factory machines.

The factory of the future will be fully connected and integrated.  It would eventually be ableto handle mass production of individually configured products and last-minute changes to any product order. This means lower production costs and faster turnaround time, even when working with product lines of varying types or specifications.

With the IIoT, more advanced robots would be in charge of the production line. Experts note that this change can only have a positive impact in the industry. Delivery leader Yen-Sze spoke to Wired about IIoT technologies, and how it can make the industrial process more efficient and customer relationships, much more fluid. "Enterprises can make small changes that make a big difference on both quality and cost,” he explains. IIoT sensors and analytics can also help collect valuable data that wouldn’t have been available in the past.

Ensuring transparency and greater control

Transparency and tracking capabilities will be central to every smart factory, too. This is all thanks to radio frequency identification or RFID, which is a smart barcode-like technology that provides detailed information, allowing items to be tracked. Business Matters Magazine notes that this not only allows buyers to track their purchases, it also lets sellers and companies keep track of their goods, as every stage of the journey can now be remotely monitored. Moreover, access to crucial information like temperature and humidity can make it easier to keep track of and enforce expiry dates on perishable or fragile goods.

A few years ago, these advancements would have been considered cutting edge technology that would be too expensive to implement on a wider scale. But today, controlled environments have become commonplace because of the rise of homes already using the technology involved in smart thermostats. Screwfix’s list of smart home gadgets features smart heating controls for UK households that use the same connected technology that is found in the supply chain.

IIoT applications like these allow shippers to monitor conditions during shipment —checking not only temperatures and humidity, but vibrations and shocks as well. Versara Trade CEO Sean Liu tells Forbes that IIoT, working together with blockchain technology, can facilitate the recording of every transaction, thereby making it easier for transporters and manufacturers to monitor a delivery’s schedule. In this way, he says, "Both transporters and receivers of goods can be notified in advance of delivery, and a replacement shipment can be dispatched in short order."

Looking into the future

In a previous post here on Manufacturing & Logistics IT, Gill Devine points out that forecasting demand would be another benefit companies can get from the IIoT and smart technology. With data gathered from smart sensors within the IIoT network, manufacturers can leverage predictive analytics and AI to completely automate the painstaking task of keeping the inventory. While all these changes are still new, it’s a good sign that the industry is willing to take the necessary steps to move forward.

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