From a logistics perspective, if the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it’s the fragility of the global supply chain. With last year’s bottleneck still not resolved, it’s time to look toward new technology to reduce costs and increase efficiency and speed. Specifically, Internet of Things (IoT) technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI), alongside powerful industrial computers, can be harnessed to collect and interpret large amounts of data in real time. Strategic widespread adoption of this technology has the potential to improve productivity along every step of the supply chain, thus massively improving efficiency and hopefully staving off the next crisis.

Recently, every link in the supply chain has been compromised in some way—including a dwindling amount of truck drivers and manufacturer workers, extreme weather events, and of course, the ongoing global pandemic has caused a shortage of direct and indirect materials, increased shipping costs, and factory shutdowns—all culminating in the current, compounded crisis. Fortunately, technology is progressing, and there is a real opportunity for supply chain leaders to leverage these advancements to their benefit. 

How it Works

IoT technology and AI work in tandem to relieve many of the issues experienced within the supply chain. For example, IoT devices placed inside goods, packaging, or even shipping containers collect massive amounts of data as they move through the supply chain. This data is then transmitted either to an industrial PC or a rugged industrial tablet to be processed by AI software, speeding up processes traditionally performed by humans while also supporting higher decision-making processes. But how would we see this implemented? 

AI and Raw Materials Extraction

The first step in the supply chain is the harvesting of raw materials. All products have to start as raw material, be it a computer, a car, or just a loaf of bread. Thanks to technology, raw materials can be harvested more efficiently than ever.

Take the food industry, for example. Before food is even harvested, farmers can leverage IoT and AI to maximize efficiency and increase crop yields. Farmers across the United States are already automating much of their operations with smart irrigation systems, drone monitoring of fields, and alarms and sensors that track livestock. None of this would be possible without industrial computers that can run 24/7 in harsh weather conditions without breaking down. Though historically very labor-intensive, these automated processes cause fewer errors and increase speed, quality, quantity, and productivity.

Furthermore, AI sensors embedded across the food supply network track metrics that help farmers make better-informed decisions based on data-driven insights and predictive analytics. For example, food recalls often hinder the supply chain’s productivity, causing undue delays and waste because of a lack of traceability. But if the contaminated batches can be precisely identified at an early stage of the supply chain, the issue can be contained. IoT and AI technology monitors the goods’ condition and provides real-time alerts. At the same time, rugged industrial tablets with integrated barcode scanners can timestamp a batch, providing both the farmer and the manufacturer with specific tracking information in the event of contamination.

Manufacturing Made Better

Next in the supply chain is the manufacturer, a critical link that technology can improve. IoT devices track a product as it moves through the manufacturing process in real-time, reducing product waste and improving productivity. Instead of just analyzing the data, advanced AI uses machine learning processes for operational prediction, systems improvement, and risk management. According to Capgemini, 29% of AI used in manufacturing is for maintaining machinery and production assets, with the most popular implementation being predictive maintenance.

For all of its potential, AI is only as powerful as the computer it’s running on. Unfortunately, most consumer grade computers cannot handle the harsh conditions in many factories. That’s why it’s essential to utilize industrial PCs – which are durable, resistant to dust and debris, and can withstand extreme temperatures – to maximize the impact AI has on your operations. 

Smart Technology Working Alongside Humans

Inventory and warehouse management is critical in any industry. Products need to be stored such that they can be easily retrieved at a moment’s notice and accurately cataloged so nothing gets lost in the shuffle. This is especially true in the food industry, where products have a short shelf life and a high risk of spoilage. Smart devices and AI are not meant to replace human workers entirely; instead, IoT technology can help individuals quickly pinpoint products on the warehouse floor while helping management track overall worker performance and productivity.

AI can also ameliorate management operations as it analyzes inventory and production data in real-time. While smart technology can specifically identify spoiled or contaminated batches of food, other industries can use this tracking feature to discover missing components or materials, so product defects and shipping delays are avoided.

Efficient Transportation Driven by AI

Transportation is arguably the most critical element of the supply chain; without it, products would not reach their final destination—the consumer. While self-driving cars and other AI replacements represent the future of shipping, current technology is already helping truck drivers and shippers increase efficiency in the present.

For example, AI-embedded IoT sensors can collect data related to product location, travel and delivery routes, and weather and traffic conditions. The data is then transmitted to an industrial PC or rugged industrial tablet and analyzed to improve efficiency and minimize delays. Condition tracking is especially helpful with food products prone to spoiling; integrating smart technology provides an added element of safety while providing a higher caliber of customer satisfaction. Additionally, a rugged industrial tablet customized with 5G connectivity can be placed in a VESA docking station to function as an in-vehicle computer, facilitating data collection even in remote areas and increasing overall supply chain efficiency.

The Bottom Line

Overall, IoT and AI technology have the potential to revolutionize the supply chain. With the help of industrial PCs and rugged tablets – which are designed to handle the harsh environmental conditions found in many farms, factories, warehouses, and trucks – this technology can be swiftly and seamlessly implemented. Because the same IoT and AI technology travel alongside and within the product through the entire supply chain, the process is streamlined, and the various industrial links are even more connected, thus promoting efficiency and speed and minimizing costs and waste.

From farmers and manufacturers to warehouse managers and transportation providers, these vital links in the supply chain can all benefit from smart technology implementation. If you’re interested in learning more about how IoT and AI are revolutionizing the supply chain, contact the experts at Cybernet today.