The increase in IoT adoption and Smart technology is revolutionizing logistics and warehouse management. Here’s how.
“The United States Smart Warehousing Market size was estimated at USD 3,481.58 million in 2020 and expected to reach USD 9,400.10 million by 2027, at a CAGR of 15.24%” – Research & Markets report.
With ever-increasing consumer demand, the load on logistics and transportation has only increased and given rise to many innovations in the logistics industry. Logistics companies are striving to increase efficiency and provide better transparency. This has led to some serious innovation and investment in the IoT space.
With IoT becoming ever-popular, forecasters predict that by 2025, the IoT industry will hit between $1 trillion and $3 trillion in revenue. This is due to a shift from mere connectivity to IoT-powered applications, platforms, and services.
How does IoT complement logistics?
Location and Route Management
Vehicle tracking solutions generally monitor the current location of trucks conveying the cargo to its destination. Logistics industries track their trucks and estimate the probable delivery time by using GPS tracking tools. It aids in smooth operation and provides more granular insight into the transportation of goods. Even companies like Maersk adopt trackers in their containers for efficient operations.
IoT has taken automation to the next level of granularity. Vendors and consignees precisely know where their goods are without too much effort. Companies like VesselFinder specialize in providing visibility to containers in real-time. In a more connected world, customers now have visibility that can be seamlessly integrated using the available data.
Since the movement of goods is tracked in real-time, a warehouse or a hub can plan the receiving and handling of goods in advance. This allows for more efficient space management and prevents excess reserved capacity.
Efficient Last-Mile Delivery
Last-mile delivery covers over 30% of all delivery costs due to the high reliance on traffic, drivers’ skills, and fuel costs. With the Internet of Things, delivery trucks can collect orders more efficiently, entirely using all the available space.
Companies like Amazon are also experimenting with Drone-based delivery for the last mile, especially in densely populated areas. While these are being tested in smaller towns and require clearances from the aviation authorities, it is only a matter of time before this becomes mainstream, given that it is more economical for things like same-day delivery.
Condition and Damage Monitoring
Monitoring the condition of goods in transit is key to several industries. For example, it is crucial for perishables or cold-chain transport, such as seafood, fresh produce, biotech, and Pharma.
Several companies make devices that monitor and log conditions like humidity, temperature, shock, and even radiation monitoring. This enables the consignees and vendors to ensure the goods are not damaged in transit. In addition, technologies like Trackers and smart containers are used to achieve damage control so your product can arrive in excellent condition.
IoT in Warehouse Management
Warehousing is generally a very people-intensive process and has significant scope for automation. Let’s explore some of the innovations that IoT has enabled in warehousing.
Efficient Warehouse Management and Stock Status
The overall process of a warehouse operation can be broken down broadly into receiving, storage, picking, packing, and shipping.
Using technologies like RFID, goods going in and out of the warehouse can be automatically logged with minimal effort from the staff. In addition, RFID does not require scanning or a direct product view, minimizing sorting and unpacking efforts.
While RFID is an old technology, reducing costs has led to its mainstream adoption. In addition, many companies add RFID tags as a part of their manufacturing process itself. As a result, incoming goods can be scanned and logged without unpacking.
The stock status of the warehouse can be updated in real-time as goods enter and leave the warehouse without any extra effort. At any given point in time, the inventory is up-to-date.
Storage and Picking
Storage and picking are very intensive processes in a warehouse. IoT products can be crucial in making these processes more efficient. While the management software assigns a place/rack where the goods need to be stored, storage involves physically transporting the goods from the receiving area to the designated place.
Similarly, picking involves locating the product in the warehouse and bringing it to the packaging area. It is estimated that employees spend approximately 30 percent of their shifts traveling inside the warehouse.
Some of the technologies that can be leveraged here are:
Automated Guided Vehicles are used to transport goods from section to section in the warehouse. They usually work in combination with the employee picking the goods for shipping or storage. On the other hand, autonomous mobile robots can pick/stack the goods on the racks. For example, Alibaba has 700 guided robots designed to transport parcels across the place and deliver goods to delivery trucks in their warehouses. Companies like GreyOrange and Conveyco also have promising solutions in this area.
UAVs for Stock-Taking
Many companies provide drones that fly automatically in the warehouse and take stock of the existing inventory. Several companies like Flytware, and Argon&Co give these devices and the integration pieces to interface with the management software.
These wearable smart glasses guide the worker to the product’s location and highlight the product that needs to be picked up. This eliminates training and human error in product selection. This also optimizes the pick-path to minimize the distance traveled by the worker.
Logistiview and Realtimelogistics are some of the leaders in this area.
Here, the employees wear a headset with a mic that understands simple voice commands and directs them to the products of interest. This is essentially done to keep the worker’s hands-free for the picking task, which otherwise would mean pressing buttons.
Companies such as 6river systems and Dematic real-time logistics are pioneers in voice headsets specifically for warehouse management.
These are essentially barcodes and RFID scanners that can be worn, which confirm the product in picking it up and not performing a scan-first.
IoT and Blockchain for Digital BOL
Blockchain-based logistics are built on a shared distributed ledger, making all of the data (shipment status at various times, storage environment, transport status) indisputable. This provides increased transparency and enables customers to track the products’ source and delivery.
The smart contract makes the contract self-executing and enforceable. However, especially in cross-border transport, there are several approvals and authorities involved. In such cases, these contracts provide an escrow mechanism where funds are disbursed based on checkpoints that are enabled by IoT.
When blended with the technology of Blockchain, applications of IoT in the logistics industry create a digital Bill of Lading (BOL) that creates whole new transparency in the supply chains.
TradeLens ecosystem is a solution launched in 2018 by Maersk and IBM. It helps to track vehicles, containers, cargo, and supply chain management. Industry partners’ freight traffic data are collected into a single secure blockchain network. And all interested parties are provided with secure access to information. The system also automates the associated documentation, including invoices, bills, and fees.
Dispute Resolution with Blockchain
Dispute resolution is a widespread function in logistics. Companies have strived to provide a smooth resolution in this matter. FedEx partnered with Hyperledger and BiTa (Blockchain in Transport Alliance) and launched a pilot project to find solutions to help resolve disputes with customers. The immutable nature of Blockchain will help minimize customer disputes.
IBM Food Trust is another initiative by IBM in the Food Trust ecosystem that enables tracking of the source of the product right up to the point of consumption. This is essential to track product transportation. IBM used the Hyperledger Fabric distribution registry to launch the IBM Food Trust ecosystem. This aims to increase the transparency and traceability of food supply chains by creating end-to-end “stories” of each product.
In other words, the network collects and integrates information on food production, transportation, and storage. This is essential to ensure safety and standards, especially in the food industry. Companies like Dole and Golden State Foods have already implemented traceability in their logistic systems.
Logistics and warehouse management is integral to every business, directly or indirectly. At the same time, it is not a monolithic process but a combination of complex processes. Interconnecting them to ensure that accurate data flows seamlessly between the various components is the key challenge.
IoT provides promising logistics and warehouse management innovation and is bound only to increase.