Supply chain is one of the most complex parts of a business. The larger the business and more global it is, the more multi-layered its supply chain becomes and also the most vulnerable-as the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed. Supply chain managers are therefore more focused about mitigating risks than about unlocking value. In addition, evolving business concepts such as just-in-time, lean manufacturing and green procurement as well different compliance requirements across countries further complicates supply chain management issues.
One of the biggest challenges with most supply chains is the lack of integration between supplier networks and the subsequent absence of visibility across the chain.
Supply chain managers need accurate information in real time to know the location of raw materials and finished goods, the quality and condition of their products and materials in storage and on the move and compliance status of various suppliers. Such information will help supply chain managers quickly respond to demand changes and anticipate supply disruptions and identify traceability breaches and frauds. But the capability to accurately track an entire supply chain from raw material stage to its availability at the retail store cannot be built without advanced technology which few supply chains have.
However, modern supply chains enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) effectively meet the need for visibility and data insights, driving transformation in supply chain management with their flexibility and agility. They help companies customize at scale and stay competitive in highly disruptive markets.
Equipped with the right data at the right time, supply chain managers can optimize inventory, make data-driven decisions, and impact customer satisfaction. Financial outcomes can also be significant as companies with reliable and modern supply chains are able to avoid losses due to product recalls (and the subsequent erosion of brand equity) and sales slumps.
IoT-and Cloud-enabled solutions
The biggest advantage of IoT solutions for the supply chain arises from the fact that it is a phygital technology connecting the real and digital worlds, making it possible for devices to communicate with one another through a network. The basic process in IoT involves data collection in real time, communicating that data to users for preventive monitoring, tracing, and making data-based decisions.
IoT devices and sensors together gather data such as the geolocation of the object to which they are attached, and the external environment conditions (including weather, humidity, speed, light, etc). This data is relayed over a network or networks that connect to the Internet through network gateways that transfer data from devices to the cloud.
The next step is to integrate this data with other external data sources for subsequent generation of insights using analytics. This layer adds intelligence to the IoT infrastructure.
Advanced technologies such as Edge Computing could be used to leverage the data insights to automatically trigger some action without human intervention. Computing at the Edge means processing data at the edge of the network, i.e. at the device level or local level. The IoT system then unlocks tremendous value through data insights along the entire supply chain.
Such IoT, Cloud-enabled systems help supply chain manager analyse trends, identify future performance gaps, predict maintenance requirements and enforce compliance. Food retailers, for example, would be able to monitor storage conditions through sensors and ensure items arrive in the right condition to grocery stores. Manufacturers and pharma companies can assess environmental conditions in a container on board a cargo ship through sensors. Companies can track the specific location of their products and materials in transit. Utility companies can get to know the maintenance requirements of their grids in advance and be able to manage an emergency remotely. The use cases are therefore varied and applicable across all industries.
The heart of these IoT systems that support end-to-end visibility of operations, and the performance of assets is asset tracking solutions or apps that are mobile. These typically are a combination of tags, readers, gateways, Cloud and mobile apps. There could be more than one cloud for various services ( data analysis etc) supporting various protocols to communicate with the gateways. The mobile app displays data and sends alerts when the asset being monitored is not performing as required.
Take the case of how a mobile tracking apps gateway developed by Innominds helped a biopharmaceutical company save $10-$15 millions of dollars in projected costs through real-time location and inventory tracking of plasma containers. This is a considerable saving in an industry that typically loses around $12 billion each year due to penalties and material waste. With a growing risk of counterfeit drugs and the inability to verify the movement of raw materials or transaction handoffs––transparency and tracking in the value chain has never been in greater demand.
The biopharmaceutical company had approached Innominds client, a US-based IoT solutions provider that offers asset tracking solutions to a variety of industries. The pharma company needed a solution to track The IoT solutions provider creates significant value across the end- to-end supply chain network by dramatically increasing visibility of product flow and conditions with its asset tracking solutions.
Finding the right mix of capabilities and synergies
Our client needed a product engineering services partner to complement and extend their team across different work streams such as a technology advisory for mobile gateway platforms, platform engineering for tethered and mobile gateways, cloud connectivity, OTA, and sensor integration for gateways, Web and mobile applications, reports, and workflow development and embedded and application testing for all product lines.
Innominds partnered with the IoT solutions provider to select a new platform. Operating cellular connected gateways in transit with longer battery life requires new methods of selecting platforms and developing solutions that suit resource-constrained environment. As IoT devices become popular, it has increased the challenges in the energy restricted nodes in wireless sensor networks. Low power devices are needed to minimize power wastage in network connectivity.
Innominds helped the client increase speed to market with enhanced or new devices and solutions including an ultra-low power asset tracking gateway. This involved advising on a new platform stack and platform engineering including board bring-up, driver integration and development and CPU bound sleep and wake-up cycles solutions. The ultra-low power asset tracking gateways and applications help enterprises track assets across indoor, outdoor, and in-transit to gain real-time visibility into their supply chains (See Figure 1).
(Figure 1: Key Platform Components Developed)
The gateways were cloud and OTA and smart sensing with the ability to integrate data from a range of sensors. Innominds also set up a smart data exchange framework to optimize resources, threads, data logging etc., OTA triggers via cloud events and OTA image chunking.
Innominds developed the Web and mobile applications that defined rules to manage workflows and alerts, and offer asset metrics through dashboards, reports, and targeted insights. The apps monitor sensors and gateways, and health parameters such as throughput, connectivity, signal strength, battery levels etc.
Innominds also conducted a simulation of sensor data and use cases with scripts to test load and scenarios. We did embedded testing for firmware, connectivity, device parameters, OTA etc. as well as Web and mobile apps functional and performance testing.
The asset tracking gateways and apps developed by Innominds facilitated the IoT solutions provider with a solution that allowed their clients higher visibility into the supply chain. The solutions enabled their clients to reduce wastage / dwell-times during production and save costs.
The ultra-low power mobile gateway helped in enhancing the IoT solutions provider in the business of end-to-end supply chain solutions besides indoor asset tracking. (See Figure 2).
(Figure 2: Solution Focus)
An optimum solution was possible because of the synergies between an IoT solutions provider and a product engineering company with expertise in Connected Devices and IoT, Cloud and app development.
In the case described above, partnering with Innominds resulted in a quick ramp up of a team that could address both embedded engineering and application development including new platform advisory services. The IoT solutions provider also benefited from Innominds’ expertise in hardware and devices.
The teaming up with Innominds also boosted the client’s future readiness as it could leverage our partnership with SoC provider (Qualcomm) and create a new platform stack for the upcoming asset tracking needs across the supply chain (indoor, outdoor, and in-transit). Download the case study and know in depth how Innominds created significant value across the end-to-end supply chain network that enabled faster time to market.
Tracking assets that incorporate future-ready technologies such as IoT with the right platforms help create modern, reliable and resilient supply chains. Tracking solutions with cellular connected gateways in transit with longer battery life require selecting platforms and solutions with ultra-low power devices. And as IoT solutions are used in a variety of environment, enabling these devices with cellular connectivity and smart data exchange with the Cloud will become essential. Effective advanced technology-based solutions are best developed collaboratively by supply chain IoT solution providers and full-cycle product engineering companies like Innominds. Such collaborations provide the right talent blend for a faster go-to-market.
Author Bio: Sairam Vedam is the Chief Marketing Officer at Innominds, a full cycle platform led AI first specialist software product engineering services company that helps enterprises and ISVs unlock the power of Digital, working to drive their Digital Next initiatives. Sairam brings 20+ years of overall industry experience with a deep understanding of technologies, solutions and IP-led software services offerings. He was recognised and awarded by BBC Knowledge Series, CMO Asia, World Marketing Congress and Enterprise IT, Paul Writer from 2014-19 for demonstrating impactful global marketing leadership consistently for the last 7 years and is an external advisor with Bain&Co one of the world's leading consulting firms.
All views expressed are personal and not of the employer.