Supply Chain IoT Implementation Finds a Simple, Inexpensive Option

By Special Guest
Neil Hamilton, VP, business development, ThingStream.IO
May 03, 2017

In the United States food waste is estimated at 40 percent of the total food supply, corresponding to $161 billion worth of food damage per year. A considerable share of these losses is caused by non-optimal chain processes and management.

For suppliers and receivers, tracking the location of anything and monitoring its state are pivotal in supply chain management. In food, the ability to monitor and prevent spoilage is of paramount value in reducing waste. Likewise, the implementation of efficient IoT solutions – that are simple to configure, have reliable connectivity and at an affordable cost – is encouraged and necessary for both suppliers and receivers.

The difficulty for those in the industry tasked with improving supply chains through connected technology comes in two areas: cost and accuracy. Necessary investment tends to be high, because of both reliability and coverage issues. If a piece of technology goes wrong, or moves out of range, tracking will go down and be rendered useless. Installation is also expensive, as each monitoring device needs to be built, installed and connected to a network.

Particularly in food and FMCG we’ve seen wide use of RFID and satellite based tracking. Both of these are useful, but neither provides accurate and anywhere in the world live monitoring. RFID relies on receivers at stocking and processing locations, and satellite tracking is expensive and can be unreliable. The alternative, tracking through mobile operator networks makes more sense, but the challenge comes when the chosen network goes out of range, or the supply chain stretches across multiple countries - an even more expensive roaming SIM is required.

Solutions in this space are sold on the basis of being always-on and data driven, but unless you’re willing to pay expensive subscriptions to multiple network operators, this will never truly be the case. In some sectors a lack of monitoring can be a serious issue. According to a study by the United Nations Organization for Alimentation and Agriculture, almost one third of worldwide food production is lost - representing 1.3 billion tons, which would cover an area as big as Canada in farmed land. Imagine what could be achieved if all of this food could be relatively inexpensively monitored as it moves through global supply chains, alerting producers and receivers when food was near to being spoiled?

By making IoT technology more affordable, mass adoption and therefore significant benefits could be achieved in supply chains across the globe. For larger enterprises, customer fulfilment rates are critical. Technology could both reduce risk and consequently cost. Ultimately coverage and cost of implementation are going to be king for any solution to see widescale adoption. For IoT to be truly ubiquitous in supply chain, we need to see solutions which are both accurate and simple to implement.

A lesser known technology could provide a potential solution. USSD is a universal protocol which appears in all 2G, 3G, 4G, and LTE mobile networks, providing a globally ubiquitous tool for the movement of data. The technology is network agnostic meaning cost is also reduced, removing the need to agree contracts with multiple operators.

To truly drive IoT adoption in the supply chain, we’re going to need an alternative approach to what we’ve seen in recent years. Costs need to be lowered, and technology simplified. A company looking to develop an IoT solution which involves the communication with devices living on the edge of a network is simply faced with too many complex decisions at the moment, from how to connect through to the safety of that connection. With USSD, there is effectively no internet involved. Hacking is more difficult and costs can be saved in hardware with no need to install microprocessors, in turn reducing power demand in data transmission.

Better supply chain management is critical to future success of businesses across multiple vertical sectors. A constant connection should be the minimum requirement for any solution, not simply an ideal or aim. USSD presents a compelling technology for future implementations of IoT solutions in the space, enabling a simple to configure, constant and reliable data transmission at an affordable cost. In short, better IoT solutions in the supply chain will provide a strong return on investment, and enable a better connected future for the management of the movement of assets.

Once businesses completely implement IoT solutions, $161 billion worth of food damage per year will be a figure of the past

About the Author: Neil Hamilton is the vice president of business development at ThingStream, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Myriad Group, a public Swiss mobile software company. ThingStream combines connectivity and application management into a single platform IIoT solution. Hamilton has 20 years of working with technology based companies ranging from regional SME to global enterprises.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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