Business Supply Chains & IoT


Businesses are already putting the Internet of Things to use in all kinds of creative ways. They might look to save energy in office spaces by employing "smart" thermostats like Google's Nest, or improve employee communications through automated data collection and cloud implementation. But while these are developments that are highly visible to employees, and in some cases clients, there are some behind-the-scenes IoT changes that may ultimately have a more significant impact for some businesses.

Chief among these is the shifting supply chain. From the creation and packaging of products to the point of sale at retail locations, there are a number of processes that are currently being changed drastically in the name of accuracy and efficiency. And, in most cases, it's all thanks to machine-to-machine connections. In order to take a closer look at everything that is taking place, it's a good idea to start at the end of the supply chain and work backwards through the steps as they now exist.

Retail Locations & Product Inventory
In the past, tracking inventory and restocking when necessary has been a somewhat slow and haphazard process for a lot of larger companies. That's not to say there aren't ways to organize these steps in a quick and effective manner, but generally it takes a lot of diligence. However, this isn't necessarily the case any longer. Thanks in large part to the invention of RFID, businesses now have the ability to track items and quickly take inventory without lifting a finger, so to speak. RFID tags can be placed on crates, boxes, or even individual pieces of product so that they can be tracked by sensors at every stop along the supply chain. This includes store shelves and back rooms, where an automatic signal can now be sent when new product will be needed soon.

The Production Process
Every company operates differently when it comes to the actual creation and organization of product, but most can benefit from greater transparency and clearer timelines. And those are just the benefits that IoT implementation can deliver. With equipment hooked up to IoT systems via WiFi, and products tabbed with RFID or similar sensors as quickly as possible, plant managers can monitor machines, schedules, and inventories in full detail from any place and at any time. Automated alerts can notify the managers when a shipment is ready, or if a machine has a problem, for instance, and a range of issues can be addressed quickly and more effectively. All in all, there is significant potential for product to be produced and readied for shipping with far greater efficiency.

Shipping & Distribution
Finally, once product inventory in a store notifies a company that more supplies are needed and the manufacturing plant or warehouse puts those supplies together, they need to be shipped to distribution centers or directly to retail locations. And the IoT can now play a major role for that part of the supply chain as well. Vehicles that are now outfitted with the best GPS and WiFi connections can now enable managers to measure vehicle diagnostics, routing information, and more. Trucks and vans can automatically send alerts when in need of repair, and can even "communicate" with surrounding infrastructure to recognize more efficient routes and avoid dangerous or inefficient situations. The result is an elaborate picture of the shipping process that can enable more effective management and quicker deliveries.

All of these factors together actually make for a fairly comprehensive shift in how supply chains are being organized. As stated, these might not be the most visible IoT-related changes in places of business, but they could prove to be some of the most significant.

About the Author: Charles Bell is a technology and lifestyle writer. He contributes in a freelance capacity to numerous blogs and websites, writing primarily about the latest tech topics.

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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