Sensitive supply chains embrace better sensors

Perishable goods, items that are prone to counterfeiting, valuable commodities, items historically linked to human rights violations - all of these are great potential use cases for improved tracking and visibility technologies. Real-time information on goods in transit has been one of the transformational additions to the supply chain in recent years. Organizations of all kinds are making effective use of rich new flows of information, and high-priority sectors are gaining particular value from rich data.

The introduction of new sensors, database technologies, analytics algorithms and other tech tools has led to changing priorities. Today's supply chain leaders are dealing with more input and faster intelligence updates than they've ever had access to before. What they do with this content may separate difference-making logistics departments from those that are merely getting by.

Pharmaceuticals, other complex products more visible than ever
Material handling & Logistics contributor Dagny Dukach recently pointed to ways in which advanced sensors can make a difference in risk management and planning within the supply chain. A pharmaceutical company that manufactures temperature-sensitive products was recently able to monitor how warm the items were becoming, even during transit from manufacturing facilities in Europe to distributors in North America. The sensors reported a container's temperature controls were set incorrectly, and employees managed to fix the error before the goods spoiled, preserving the shipment.

Dukach noted the pharma industry is among the sectors with the most complicated supply chains. Electronic products also take a long time to get to market, with many potential stops on the way from raw materials to the final consumers. These long supply chains demand high levels of visibility but are the hardest to gain insight into. Issues moving goods from one country to another may lead to serious delays, and the longer a shipment disappears from executives' view, the less certain corporate projections become.

The use of internet of things devices, which intelligently relay data back to their users, can transform operations in these opaque industries. Dukach called for these automatic transmitters to replace manual scanning wherever possible. As goods move between different partners, cross borders and travel for months on end, simple scanning will likely fail to create an adequate portrait of an item's progress.

Data flows in from locations around a city.The IoT is a supply chain leader's latest tool.
Secondary improvements enabled by IoT
EBN contributor Rob Stevens took a deeper dive into the ways the electronics supply chain can better itself through an infusion of data from automatic sensors. When tracking information is available quickly, companies can respond in the case of mishaps. The removal of uncertainty from logistics is a major benefit, lessening worker downtime and enabling problem correction as soon as issues are detected.

Better data visibility can even improve the way partner organizations relate to one another. When businesses reduce ambiguity about shipment speed, condition and location, there are fewer arguments or recriminations between companies. The cause and effects of delays and other issues are clearer and all parties can move forward more quickly. Organizations can also use visibility information to respond preemptively to supply shortages or demand spikes. Proactive action by the supply chain can remove the need for consumer complains and lessen dissatisfaction.
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