How is the IOT evolving the supply chain?

Over recent years the Internet of Things (IoT) has caused some major changes to the world of consumer goods, but it’s how the IoT is evolving the supply chain that’s really grabbing attention today.

By Ian Jindal

Morgan Stanley estimates that by 2020 a colossal 75 billion devices will be connected to the IoT. Research from Gartner takes this further, predicting that the IoT will revolutionise the world of delivery operations and that the number of internet connected physical devices will be 30 times what it is now by 20201. It is inevitable that these changes will have a massive knock on effect on the way the supply chain works.

The supply chain is coming alive with the developments from the IoT. New developments have created an altogether more efficient and controlled supply chain. This allows for much greater tracking and intelligence,– connecting people, processes and data via devices and sensors. In fact, many predict that the IoT will lead to a complete redesign of existing supply chain processes.

The most exciting supply chain development we see from the IoT is the added visibility of products and parcels, an area in which retailers have notoriously struggled. The ability to ‘see’ a product or parcel has previously been obscured by the remoteness of the supply chain. However, major retailers such as Amazon, Staples and Ocado are now using IoT developments to improve the efficiency of their delivery processes; drones, package and pallet devices, and connect robots are all simplifying fulfilment.

The IoT is helping parcels get from A to B through RFID-enabled pallets and a combination of sensor devices that allow for greater quality and accuracy for both the sender and the receiver. These sensors can monitor weather conditions, traffic jams, package temperature and, in some cases, are even light sensitive.

Postcard-sized device

Recently ParceLive developed a postcard-sized device that can be put into the parcel at the point of distribution. The device not only serves as a GPS tracker but also assesses the position of the parcel, its temperature and exposure to light to determine how the parcel has been handled during transit and whether it has been opened. A huge development in the security element of the supply chain.

But it’s not only packages and parcels the IoT is helping, automated bots are predicting what products to order and when. Along with the standard predictions of chocolate and teddy bears around Valentine’s day and mulled wine at Christmas, bots are monitoring stock levels on shelves to assess the next trend, and automatically re-order stock once it reaches a certain level. This in turn is cutting down on the time taken by those managing the stock to manually collect the data and evaluate how much of each item should be ordered and when.

The IoT is bringing the supply chain to life, it’s an exciting time for the industry with developments expected to surge over the next few years.

Ian Jindal is experienced multichannel retailer and Editor-in-Chief of InternetRetailing

Adoption of the IoT in fulfilment and delivery as well as all the latest technology in packaging, parcels, stock management and warehousing will be presented at this year’s eDelivery Expo, at the NEC Birmingham on the 5th and 6th April. Speakers from brands including Sainsbury’s, Harrods, ASDA, John Lewis and Ocado will be sharing insights and best practice on what the future has in store for fulfilment and how retailers can improve their operations strategy and performance to navigate the challenging times ahead.