More and more products are getting “smart” and uses IoT (Internet of things). There are many definitions of IoT but I like the McKinsey Global Institute definition: IoT devices are those that “can monitor their environment, report their status, receive instructions, and even take action based on the information they receive.” McKinsey further notes that there are three components that make a “thing” or device part of the IoT:
- Sensors to track and measure the activity that is taking place.
- Connectivity to the Internet is contained in the object itself, a connected hub, a smartphone, or a base station.
- Processors that enable the object to have at least some computing power.
According to a Gartner study there is about 4.9 billion “connected things”. In the next five years, that is projected to be 25 billion. The number of connected products increases as the cost of technology decreases. IoT enabled warehouses and supply chains is still in very early stages but according to a Zebra Technology’s survey 7 out of 10 supply chain decision makers plan to increase their use of technology to create smart warehouses to 2020.
The possibilities with IoT in warehouse is endless. Connected products could include cameras, passive and active RFID tags, scales and forklifts for example. The industry is still in the process of trying out different applications and approaches in an effort to figure out what makes the most sense. Another area is sensors in advanced automation solutions and conveyor systems that support WCS to make more advanced decisions to optimize flow.
WMS and WCS developers have a big and demanding job regarding IoT. A great amount of data is produced and needs to be collected and analyzed. And what should we use all the data for? That is in my opinion a very interesting question, even if the costs of IoT is decreasing there is still an expensive implementation including server and database capacity to handle and process all the information.
Many talk about the possibilities regarding traceability in warehouse and in transport. But for standard goods transports that is in my opinion not a problem if you have a good WMS and TMS, you don’t need IoT for that.
DHL supply chain have an interesting pilot project in progress at three sites in Europe. They are testing a solution that enables DHL to monitor operational activities in real-time through a responsive graphical visualization of operational data which is obtained from sensors on scanners, material handling equipment and DHL´s warehouse management system. They are visualizing operational data with heat maps in real-time. In this way they can interpret data in an early stage and more meaningfully. That make them able to take quick decisions regarding workforce and warehouse flow.
Personally, I think DHL is on the right track for IoT, being able to make the right decisions earlier with real-time data instead of analyzing history when it’s already too late. Technology is still in its infancy, it will be exciting to follow further developments.