The Internet of Things (IoT) offers huge potential for supply chains to improve efficiency, move faster, and cut costs—at a level unimaginable just a few years ago.
And the money is flowing. IDC puts manufacturing at the top of the list of IoT investors, at more than $102 billion in 2016 alone. Prepare for that flow to become a torrent: a recent survey by ABI Research found that 67% of manufacturing respondents don’t currently have an IoT solution in operation—but 74% of those are either investigating, assessing, or planning to deploy an IoT solution in the next year.
Will they see real results? That depends on a number of factors that supply chain leaders need to think through at the beginning of this journey, says Bhagat Nainani, group vice president of IoT Applications Development at Oracle.
“It’s critical to start with the end in mind and then determine what part IoT technology can play in that business outcome—instead of starting the other way and just taking the devices and connecting them but then not knowing what to do with the data,” Nainani says.
The IoT technologies businesses select can make the difference in whether those end-goals are achieved. While some companies might try the DIY route and build their IoT systems from scratch using open source and a range of components, they’re likely to find that far more time is spent coupling different technologies together rather than focusing on the actual business value, he says. And some hardware vendors that offer connected machines may not provide the scalability to ingest and analyze high volumes of data in real time, which can also limit the system’s effectiveness.
For those exploring how IoT could best benefit their company’s supply chain, Nainani suggests focusing on the following four areas.
1. Managing Fleets
Organizations dependent on fleets—whether those trucks are delivering parts and materials to them or delivering their products to customers—are often stymied by delays.
“An IoT system can give you real-time visibility into delays—like unscheduled stops or mechanical issues—so you can take actions on your end to adjust,” Nainani says. “You can track shipments, routes, and unexpected stops and make adjustments accordingly.”
While having visibility is key, being able to quickly and easily take the right actions to adjust manufacturing schedules, address mechanical issues, and meet customer expectations is where IoT becomes a competitive advantage. That’s why Oracle Internet of Things Fleet Monitoring Cloud Service, for example, is fully integrated with Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning Cloud, Oracle Service Cloud, Oracle Transportation Management Cloud, and Oracle Logistics Cloud, enabling managers to monitor costs, order service calls, and easily make necessary adjustments to schedules throughout the supply chain.
2. Tracking Assets
If a company’s shipment is dependent on a third-party fleet, it won’t be able to monitor the trucks—and that leaves it dependent on reports from the shipping company and its drivers. Using IoT technology, a business can monitor its cargo, keeping informed of the cargo’s precise location on the road and when it’s delivered to its designation, with automatic updates to the warehouses that will unload it, the factory waiting for the parts that are being shipped, and other affected areas.
In addition to tracking assets en route, companies are looking to IoT to track a wide range of company-owned assets, both on-premises and out in the field. Companies can control losses and improve productivity by using IoT to track the location of assets at all times, even within a specific location, ensuring alerts are sent when a certain asset is moved from its designated space and employees are able to quickly locate the equipment they need.
For example, a study by NursingTimes in 2009 found that more than a third of nurses spent at least an hour of each shift looking for equipment, and on average spent another hour helping others locate items. But there’s another layer to this story: a 2012 GE Healthcare study found that the average number of mobile devices per staffed bed increased 62% on average between 1995 and 2010—despite healthcare devices becoming increasingly multifunctional.
“Many hospitals believe, in error, that it is less costly to address equipment availability issues by leasing, renting, or buying more units—rather than optimizing how existing devices are managed and distributed,” the report’s authors state. Further, they estimate that the average 200-bed hospital could save $1.3 million in capital expenditures and reduce annual service costs by $160,000 simply by reducing its mobile devices by 25%.
3. Maintenance and Utilization
As companies look for ways to cut maintenance costs and downtime, the combined forces of IoT and machine learning can take equipment management to new levels.
Oracle Internet of Things Asset Monitoring Cloud Service, for example, provides real-time analysis of the health of assets by assessing current measures, environmental information, and historical data to determine when maintenance will be needed and whether there any anomalies that indicate a need for concern. Business users define the KPIs as well as what they consider an anomaly, and the service looks for those anomalies and uses machine learning technology to predict the chances of those anomalies occurring based on a range of data.
While these technologies provide deep insight, one critical aspect of gleaning true value from IoT is how easily employees can take action on the information provided, Nainani says. Oracle’s solution also enables the business to establish digital twins of its equipment—a software representation that enables employees to remotely conduct tests, run different scenarios, and take action on that twin without having to go onsite.
Gartner recognized the potential for digital twin technology as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends of 2017. Tying such technologies into the applications used to run day-to-day supply chain operations—from manufacturing to procurement to equipment servicing and more—is key to businesses seeing true benefit from IoT, Nainani says.
4. Monitoring Production
For companies with multiple factories, each with multiple production lines producing multiple items, monitoring whether production plans are being met and assessing equipment efficiency is arduous—and typically based on information that’s not current.
“Today, a lot of that information is loaded up into the manufacturing system at the end of the shift, and then they assess and replan,” Nainani says. “With IoT, managers are able to get real-time visibility into what’s happening and they can adjust their plan accordingly.”
By having a finger on the real-time pulse of equipment efficiency, companies can assess the utilization, availability, and productivity of each machine. Taking it a step further, Oracle Internet of Things Production Monitoring Cloud also enables managers to perform root-cause analyses to determine why one factory is doing better than another, drill down to pinpoint the issues that need to be addressed, and identify patterns that need to be looked for going forward.
“”IoT data is not useful unless you are able to utilize the insights from that data to drive business outcomes,” Nainani emphasizes.
Margaret Harrist is director of content strategy and implementation at Oracle.