IoT Blog
IoT Blog

Fully Automated Freight Logistics Networks are Transforming the Future of Commerce

by Benoit Tournier, Director of Marketing, Transportation

Three million. That’s how many packages Amazon mails out every single day.  That’s a staggering number, until you compare it to Alibaba, which sends out a mind-boggling 12 million packages daily. Around the world, individuals and companies — both large and small — are constantly sending out goods, as traditional retail shrinks and the on-demand economy grows. It’s getting faster and it’s getting more important. Fully automated freight logistics networks are precisely what the industry needs to ensure that the shipping industry keeps pace with the ever-growing demand. 

In fact, the global economy is becoming more and more dependent upon logistics and speed. eCommerce was worth $1.9 trillion dollars last year alone, and it’s an industry that just continues to grow. To keep pace, logistics must get faster and smarter. One way to do that is through autonomy. 

A fully-automated logistics network — which, despite advancements in drone technology, will probably still include a driver/deliverer for the foreseeable future — is one that can scan and sort packages, move the trucks, and create intuitive, flexible routes to maximize efficiency. Full automation is not yet a reality for this industry, but when it does happen, eCommerce will move at an even faster pace. But to work effectively, we need reliable network connectivity. 

The Future of Industrial IoT Applications Using Open Source Hardware

There can’t be any downtime for connected pallet loaders, self-tracking packages, or self-driving trucks. This concept is reliant upon a business-critical network that doesn’t fail...ever. As critical as automated logistics will be to the global economy, network connectivity is just as critical for automation.

Better Sorting, Quicker Shipping: The Benefits of Automated Logistics Operations
A forklift speeds down the narrow aisles of a busy, teeming warehouse. But no one is concerned; this isn’t reckless. The automated forklift is being controlled by an M2M algorithm, communicating with every other connected, automated device on the floor. Which is all of them. It drops off its pallets, which are instantly sorted by automated pickers, and move on. 

That’s the warehouse of the very near future. An automated logistics network begins in the warehouse, and moves out from there. Here are just a few of its features and benefits. 

Self-tracking packages.  The next phase of package tracking entails RFID or BLE tags, which will take the place of barcodes as the primary means of parcel identification. This will effectively turn every parcel into a connected device that will be constantly communicating with the central system. Some of the benefits will include:
  • Fewer errors. If a package knows where it’s supposed to go, it can communicate with the human or robotic sorter. The package can also generate an alert if it is placed in the wrong area at the sorting center. 
  • Faster sorting. Working with IoT-connected sorting units, the package can be easily diverted to the right area.
  • Quicker times. No scanning. No misreads. Fewer delays. From the time it is picked up to the time it is delivered, the package interacts with and updates the central algorithm. 

Machine-controlled warehouses. Sorters, pallet-loaders, forklifts, truck loaders: there could come a time when nearly everything in a warehouse can be done by machines. Some of these benefits include:
  • Lower costs. Amazon estimates that autonomous forklifts have reduced warehouse expenses by 20%. We can expect to see more movement in this direction as automation expands. 
  • Fewer injuries. Warehouses can be dangerous places. Automation, if done correctly, can reduce injury rates and improve overall safety.
  • Fewer damaged products. Automation will result in fewer dropped packages, fewer accidents, and a lower rate of damage. This saves money and keeps the customer happy. 

The connected truck.
In-truck scanners can interact with the RFID chips in the packages for quicker and easier updates. Oh, and the package’s positioning doesn’t matter since there’s no bar code. Some of these benefits include:
  • Better Customer Service. Constant updates for the e-tailer and the recipient. It’s a value-add for the seller since the customer can have access to real-time parcel information.
  • More efficiency for drivers/deliverers. Even if a truck is self-driving, the last few steps will require a human to run it up to the doorstep or mailbox, deliver it, and provide a friendly interaction (along with getting signatures and making judgement calls). There will be no need to scan everything and this means quicker and less-tedious work. 
  • Improved routing efficiency. Sometimes packages don’t get delivered. If this happens, the event can automatically trigger a new route calculation to attempt same-day delivery. This is especially true if the customer can track in real time where their package is and update their location (“I’ll be home after 3:30!”). 

Connectivity is Vital for Business-Critical Operations

The flipside to automation is that it requires constant connectivity. An algorithm can’t have a sick day; there’s no one who can fill in for them. That’s why companies who are automating their logistics networks need reliable partners with expertise in business-critical IoT connectivity. 

The most important factors in an automated logistics network are:
  • Scalable architecture: It isn’t just about device population, but device diversity. The connected truck is the hub of operations, allowing it to act as a communications platform for all attached devices. This eliminates the cost of providing a cellular module for each device. When businesses go to expand their fleets, they’ll find that adding another truck to the IoT is much simpler (far more so than connecting directly to an enterprise system), as long as there is support for standard protocols such as WiFi, bluetooth, or vehicle telemetry systems. This allows for easy scalability. 
  • End-to-end IoT security: Security is where technology meets policy. Limiting exposure by minimizing the amount of information kept on data, implementing mutual authentication credentials, and implementing encryption are great policies, but they have to be backed by the right technology.  This can be done with intelligent modules and routers.
  • Resilient mobile connectivity: This is the most crucial factor for your business-critical operations. You need ruggedized vehicle routers designed to ensure smooth routing between sensors, devices and the Enterprise cloud. You want solutions that can select the most appropriate wireless connections. These should deploy multi-operator connectivity on a single smart SIM.
Logistics are an essential factor in the modern global economy. And logistics grows more and more and more vital every year. Automation will play a key part in making sure that the wheels of the world don’t spin out of control, and that delivery can keep up with supply and demand. To make automation work, business-critical networks are vital. Start with Sierra to make sure that you build the right IoT network to fuel your logistics.