The modern supply chain is complex, global, multi-modal, and full of visibility gaps. These gaps cost companies money, time, and reputation, as they are forced to operate with limited knowledge. In response to these challenges, managers have begun incorporating digital solutions that provide real-time visibility into a supply chain’s hidden corners, enabling potential problems to be discovered and avoided before it is too late. Here are five common supply chain pitfalls and a look at the new real-time visibility technologies enabling companies to overcome them.
- Temperature excursions in transit: Many manufacturers of temperature-sensitive goods rely on loggers to determine whether an excursion has occurred. But by the time a temperature excursion is discovered from the logger data, the product may already be irreparably damaged. There is no visibility into the temperature en route, and thus no awareness of excursions when they occur.
- Air freight delays: Airlines generally provide scheduled arrival and departure times. But while the product is travelling, the manufacturer often has little or no visibility into the shipment’s precise location or condition. Shipments may be held up in processing, left on a hot tarmac, or experience rough handling, leading to delays and potential damages.
- Delays in port: When shipping by sea, the logistics company usually provides basic location tracking. But once a container arrives in port, it might stay there for days or even weeks. It may be delayed in customs, processing, or simply be stuck in the backlog of a congested international port — here, again, the manufacturer has no visibility into the delays.
- Old-fashioned traffic jams: Traffic may only delay a shipment by a few hours, but without visibility into a shipment’s location, there is no way of knowing if it is missing, waiting in port, or simply stuck in traffic. As a result, shippers are often forced to assume any delay is serious, implementing costly contingency measures that may not be necessary.
- Last-mile damages: Even with the most cooperative of carriers, manufacturers still struggle to maintain visibility into the last mile. If a product is damaged during the last leg of a shipment, the manufacturer often has no way to know when or how the damage occurred, and no way to resolve the problem before delivery.
The visibility gaps described above have real, tangible costs. They can lead to fees for rerouting or expediting replacement shipments, lost revenues if a product is late to market, damaged reputation, and more. Furthermore, without visibility into the cause of delays or damages, there is little the manufacturer can do to avoid the problem in the future.
Visibility gaps have a real impact on the bottom line, and these costs are motivating manufacturers to explore strategies to fill the gaps.
Always-on Internet of Things (IoT) solutions with real-time location and condition monitoring are providing a new granular level of visibility throughout a shipment’s journey. These IoT devices are powered by long-lasting batteries that surpass the lifespan of traditional tracking devices, enabling companies to monitor shipments for as long as six months. Plus, the development of compact, highly reliable sensors means that a single small device can track everything from location to temperature, humidity, shock, vibration, orientation, and more.
In addition to these advances in always-on battery-powered tracking devices, the global cellular network is enabling tracking devices to be in constant communication with the cloud. This makes it possible to alert supply chain managers as soon as an unexpected event occurs anywhere along the supply chain — be it a geofence, a harmful shock event, or a temperature excursion — in real time.
This combination of long battery life, compact sensors, and a global cellular network has laid the foundation for the development and implementation of a new generation of IoT tracking devices. And as more manufacturers adopt these real-time tracking tools to increase visibility into their supply chains, they are cutting costs, increasing efficiency, and ultimately improving customer service.
Rob Stevens is co-founder and chief revenue officer at Tive, a provider of sensor-driven tracking solutions.