Despite the fact that the Internet of Things has become better understood by the general public in recent years, most of us still consider it with regard to how it can tangibly benefit us. That’s to say, we think first of things like smart homes and fitness tracking, or even how the IoT might be used to better our healthcare systems. But at least in the early stages of its expansion, some of the IoT’s greatest impacts can be seen on a larger and more intangible scale. Specifically, the IoT is largely benefiting major industries in ways that don’t directly affect consumers (but may indirectly improve company-consumer relations).
One major example of IoT integration in major industries is how it’s altering supply chains in businesses with retail divisions. This doesn’t necessarily sound as exciting as hearing that the IoT is turning your home into an intelligent ecosystem, but it nevertheless has a significant impact on society. It also holds massive potential for energy savings, improved efficiency, and better customer satisfaction.
How IoT changes Supply Chain Management?
But what exactly does the IoT mean with regard to the supply chain in major businesses? The answer to that question is multi-faceted, but starting at the bottom, in stores and on shelves, it means the tracking and management of inventory. When the IoT is implemented at a store level, orders can be placed automatically for items that are low on stock, or even equipment that may soon need to be replaced. In theory, this could ultimately eliminate the issue of going to a store only to find that an item you’re interested in is out of stock, or that they don’t have a given type of that item (a certain size, color, etc.) that you’d prefer. Inventory would never run out.
But the idea of using electronic, connected monitors to send automatic alerts when more supplies are needed only covers part of the process. Companies still need to be equipped to get new inventory to specific locations on time, which is where shipping divisions come into play. However, it’s not just about shipping out some products to where they’re needed when the alerts come through. The IoT is also being used to improve the actual shipping process in ways that make things safer and quicker for drivers, and more efficient in general. It all starts with the integration of WiFi into fleet vehicles, which can result in the real-time sharing of vehicle diagnostics and routing information. Just as companies can receive automatic alerts when inventory on a given product is low, they can see when vehicles may be in need of repair. They can be alerted if roadside assistance is needed, and that assistance can be dispatched automatically. They can also change routing information on-the-go to help deliveries get from distribution centers to store locations as quickly as possible.
The implementation of the IoT in these two areas alone makes for an incredible shift in the convenience with which companies can manage their supply chains. However, it doesn’t tell the entire story just yet. The IoT can also have a significant impact on the last part of the process: the factories and manufacturing centers at which product is created and packaged for shipping in the first place.
And we’re already seeing changes in this regard as well. By using IoT-enabled factory equipment, companies are changing how production occurs. Temperatures, machine parameters, and equipment settings can all be tracked and analyzed automatically in a way that improves efficiency and speeds up production. For instance, a factory process involving painting goods might monitor humidity to ensure conditions leading to quick and effective painting. In an ideal situation, changes like these can improve factory conditions and lead to better performance and quicker production. However, even at the bare minimum, IoT integration in manufacturing can save on energy costs for companies, which if done on a significant scale could even bring about lowered costs for products.
Add up all of these potential changes and uses of the IoT, and you can see that pretty much the whole supply chain can be covered. Factory practices can be made more efficient, shipping can become quicker and safer, and stores can become more effective at, essentially, restocking their own inventory. All of this is possible entirely thanks to the IoT and the various small tracking devices and data management systems that can be implemented at all levels of a major company. As stated previously, none of the changes is the sort that directly impacts or excites consumers. But indirectly, they can certainly change how we view companies’ efficiency and reliability.