How IoT and AI Became the Saving Grace for Supply Chain Woes

Mounting supply chain choke holds are increasingly being exploited as the world incurs crisis after crisis - what can be done to make transactions, transports and any logistical matters become more efficient and streamlined? We all know that AI (artificial intelligence) has made its debut in the industry with driver assistance in trucks but what can AI teamed with the IoT (Internet of Things) do to alleviate common struggles in the supply chain?

What does “Internet of Things” even mean?

IoT has been in a constant state of evolution since the 1980’s. Simply put, the IoT refers to any device, machine, or tool that has an on/off button and is connected to the internet.

MIT’s Executive Director of Auto-ID Labs, Kevin Ashton, first dubbed the term Internet of Things during a presentation in 1999:

“Today computers, and, therefore, the Internet, are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes of data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture or scanning a barcode. The problem is, people have limited time, attention, and accuracy. All of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things, using data they gathered without any help from us, we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, loss, and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing, or recalling and whether they were fresh, or past their best.”

Though this may not be a clear, concise and direct definition of what IoT was and would be at the time, the concept and purpose behind it was first brought to fruition here.

IoT is all around you, every day. If you are wondering what it looks like in practice there are many examples that utilize IoT simply just to function. A relevant example would be wireless doorbells and cameras such as Ring or Vivint. If you have ever had to set up something similar to this you know that all operational products need to be connected to your home internet in order to work properly. IoT makes it possible for someone to press a button at your front door and you can not only be alerted but can see who is at your front door from your mobile device. Another example that is related would be your security system. This is a more complex example but if you were to push the “police” or “fire” alert on your system, your local departments would be notified without you ever having to make a call.

Ok, so what is IIoT?

Now that you have a basic understanding of what IoT is, we can dive into what it has to do with the supply chain and our industry. No too long ago, IIoT became a subset of the IoT. IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) came about around 2012. This refers to all devices, products, tools, etc. that have to do with the industrial side of a company. Whether it is keeping track of inventory, quality assurance, shipping or transport, IIoT is now involved in every aspect in most companies.

Without getting too detailed, when it comes to inventory and tracking goods or materials the IIoT is reliant on “tags” such as barcodes or QR codes that are manually, but most the time, automatically scanned when going through a certain phase. Another, more visible example, you may have seen are those nifty robots that move about the warehouse floors in places like Amazon and other major fulfillment and distribution centers. All connected to a central network, they communicate with each other to ensure precise operations amongst them and the employees within the warehouse.

Sensors play the biggest role in IIoT, according to “IoT devices use sensors to measure specific aspects of the world around them, including location, temperature, humidity, light levels, movement, handling, speed of movement and other environmental factors. IoT devices come in many form factors including RFID chips (barcodes, QR codes etc), smart devices and mobile sensors.”

With these sensors that all communicate with a central database, companies are able to keep their eyes on every good and material that flows in and out of their space. When one database has to transmit that information to another database with an affiliated party of that company it can speed up information sharing in order to work more efficiently.

Application of IoT to supply chain operations

The purpose of integrated IoT with AI technology is primarily to provide accurate data. It is the byproduct of that accurate data that supply chains with benefit from dramatically. Sensors providing real-time location, quality and status of shipments or goods are the base functions of improving supply chain management.

When a business is able to accurately record placement of a good in no time flat, the stakeholders involved will not just have confidence that the good will be where it needs to be, when it needs to be there but also increases the trust in that business. Having a smart supply chain is necessary to compete in today’s market. So, what does that look like in practice?

Above, we mention RFID tags. Companies have incorporated varieties of these into their supply chain management that have produced their desired results but what do these tags look like and do? A detailed article from explains the types of RFID tags:

“Internet-connected trackers use long-range networks or Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) to let companies track specific items throughout their delivery journeys. In the same vein, satellite trackers provide location data on an item almost anywhere on the planet, even in areas that do not have cellular coverage.

Bluetooth tags and beacons offer tracking data in smaller, more confined areas, and companies most often use them in retail stores to monitor customer traffic and offer marketing messages to said customers.

Finally, near-field communication (NFC) tags, based on RFID standards, allow workers to use their mobile devices as readers for the NFC tags, which provides an advantage over RFID tags and readers.”

In practice, we would like to refer to Amazon, once again, for an example. Typically, in larger cities, people can go onto their amazon application and look up items that can be delivered same day. The reason that you would be able to see that is due to IIoT and its use in Amazon’s supply chain management. As soon as you select an item and purchase it, the fulfillment center where the item is located receives the notification and it packaged and prepared to be distributed. Once prepared there is automatic communication to the distribution center and instantly a route and vehicle is selected for it to be delivered on. From there all it takes is the driver to deliver to the right address, scanning the RFID and moving to the next one. All if this is done with little to no human interaction. With less human interaction in the fulfillment and shipping world, comes less human error, which in turn creates a more efficient process.

More benefits that come from embracing IoT with more devices on a suitable dashboard include:

  • “Reassurance that goods are located where stakeholders say they are, both at rest and in motion
  • Early identification of issues with goods getting lost or delayed
  • Real-time shipment and inventory visibility and tracking
  • Easier supply and demand planning as stakeholders know when they can expect to receive and process goods
  • Better quality management due to keeping raw materials and processed goods in optimal conditions
  • Efficient storage and distribution of products due to the easier location of goods in warehouses”

Lastly, using sensors in IoT devices can predict disruptions in the supply chain process whether something is wrong out on the manufacturing floor, or a shipment is shown as delayed. Ideally this would signal to other components of the supply chain that these disruptions will cause a butterfly effect. The quicker we can see a disruption coming, the quicker we are able to provide a solution to meet that problem where it is.

What does that mean in our industry?

 An application that most of our readers can understand would be the IoT related to the transportation world. It has been around for years now, and you have likely heard of, if not worked with, devices that play a role in asset tracking thanks to IoT.

Transportation companies utilize multiple IoT devices to complete a multitude of tasks and goals:

Devices such as ELDs are equipped with GPS tracking to communicate different types of information to the carriers such as speed, location, and a drivers’ on duty and off duty times. This device is very much an IoT as it relies on its connectivity to transmit the information to the source that then displays it to whoever utilizes it.

These tools are used to enhance and advance companies that will ultimately serve their customers and make everyone’s job easier. Knowing exactly where a truck with a specific shipment going to a specific customer is in real time by simply looking at a screen instead of taking the time to call the driver, (while also risking distracting them), getting his location, then calling the customer to let them know where it is and so on. In fact, some organization have a portal that their customers can log into to view the dashboard themselves thus freeing up more time all around for employees to focus on other tasks.

Sensors that are in dashboard cameras and driver assistance AI tech are also devices that relay information needed in order for companies to keep a pulse on their transport functions.

The main driver for this type of technology is to improve safety. By monitoring driver behavior carriers are able to pinpoint specific issues or discrepancies and prevent issues going forward. This can lead to a decrease in maintenance costs and avoid accidents and injury as well.

Scratched the surface

Needless to say, there is a ton of technology that goes into anything that involves IoT and its devices. Just like with any kind of tech these days, it will continue to evolve and expand in ways we cannot likely predict. For companies that are currently in motion of updating and improving their practices, harnessing the power of IoT has never been easier and relatively affordable. Devices, sensors, and even data are becoming more affordable and accessible, it is just a matter of time before every business or service we come in contact with is utilizing IoT.

Exciting times

In recent years, Meadow Lark has embraced more IoT tools that have helped everyone in almost every way. From our drivers to our customers, we have and continue to be open to progress and advancements in technology in order to benefit everyone we come in contact with. With implementing new TMS software such as Loadstop and continuously training our teams to stay ahead of the curve, we are ready for whatever comes next.

Learn more about how Meadow Lark it dedicated to solving your problems by calling (866)-736-5233

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