As the COVID-19 pandemic made painfully clear, “business as usual” is heavily dependent on something that previously garnered little attention and operated almost invisibly in the background — the global supply chain.
The ability to seamlessly move items from point A to point B without any undue delay is what allows global society to function smoothly – and it took a wrench like the COVID-19 pandemic being hurled into the gears of the machine for people to fully realize just how vital it is.
The truth is, supply chains are a complex undertaking even without the added burden of a global pandemic. It requires a delicate, coordinated dance between multiple parties to ensure that logistics line up and goods get to where they need to go – on time, and in proper condition.
Real time visibility on cargo location and condition can help prevent missteps in this complicated logistical dance. For instance, while it’s helpful to see that a pallet full of goods or an individual package left a warehouse in a specific city on a particular date, being able to track and monitor this cargo while it’s in transit, and know where it is currently located, what environmental conditions it is experiencing, and whether these conditions might have damaged it is even more helpful. Today’s complex supply chains and demanding customers mean that the days when cargo effectively entered a black hole after it left a shipping facility, with no indication of its current location or status, have ended.
Shippers today want real time information on their cargo’s whereabouts and environmental conditions, not just periodic updates at various transfer points. This is especially true for high value assets like electronics, which can be vulnerable to theft, as well as mobile assets like heavy equipment.
In addition to determining where something is, it is increasingly important to know how that shipment is doing and what kind of environmental conditions it’s facing during its journey.
Temperature is one of the most important factors to keep an eye on. Witness the COVID-19 vaccines that were rolled out over the past year, which needed to be kept at precise refrigerated temperatures for the entirety of their journey, lest they spoil. Likewise, your favorite pint of ice cream and preferred produce items need to be kept in a carefully monitored cold chain while being transported.
In addition to temperature, cargo may require other conditions – like humidity levels or shocks – to be monitored in order to minimize damage. Even tilt levels can be necessary to keep an eye on. The flat screen TV that nearly everyone has hanging on the wall of their house can only withstand a tilt of 10 degrees in transit before excess stress is placed on the glass of the screen. In addition, if a pallet that has fragile, high-value assets on it is dropped or experiences another type of shock, it is important for the assets’ shipper to know when and where this happens, both for insurance purposes and so they can let their customers know if there will be a delivery delay.
Given the growing importance of knowing not just where a container, bin, crate, or individual item is, but how it’s doing, more sophisticated cargo asset tracking solutions are required. However, building a comprehensive solution to wirelessly track and monitor assets using cellular connectivity has historically been a complicated and costly endeavor.
Sierra Wireless is changing that.
With Acculink Cargo, companies can now not just track where an asset is, but how it’s doing, and if it is in its original state.
Beyond location, Acculink Cargo can monitor critical events like temperature, humidity, shock, vibration, light, and motion. This enables shippers to know the location of their cargo and other assets in near real-time – enabling quick and decisive action should a change in scheduling, an event of loss or theft, or an update in state of being occur.
Acculink cargo asset monitoring solutions are fully integrated, end-to-end managed services that are fast and easy to deploy. Delivered as a service for a single monthly fee, Acculink Cargo leverages Sierra Wireless’ unique expertise in IoT devices, global connectivity, and secure software to deliver a single solution companies can use to monitor the near real-time status of assets anywhere in the world as they move through their supply chains. The innovative offering supports quick deployment in as little as 30 days, with minimal startup costs.
In addition to real-time visibility and product-level tracking, Acculink Cargo offers exception-based monitoring that alerts customers when an asset leaves a geofenced area or when various environmental conditions cross a certain threshold, so that managers don’t have to constantly monitor data feeds looking for anomalies.
For added convenience, Sierra Wireless has partnered with Microsoft to enable even more advanced cargo asset tracking capabilities in Acculink Cargo, via Azure IoT Central. Azure IoT Central is an Application Platform as a Service (aPaaS) that provides solution builders with the easiest and most cost-effective way to connect and manage devices at scale.
The integration of Azure IoT Central offers customers added functionality and the ability to quickly leverage third-party devices that are supported by Azure IoT Central. This “plug and play” capability means any device that is already integrated with Azure IoT Central can be easily leveraged on Acculink’s platform, accelerating solution development, and reducing complexity.
What does this enhanced level of visibility and monitoring look like in practice?
Let’s take the example of heat sensitive products, whether they’re vaccines or perishables. When these products are being transported at the wrong temperature, normally the problem is only discovered upon arrival – in other words, way too late.
With real time information from Acculink Cargo, cargo owners can be notified as soon as the cold chain is compromised, allowing them to address any problems before products are irreparably ruined.
What if you’re transporting high value assets, like sensitive electronics or a fragile piece of artwork from Point A to Point B, and it arrives from the carrier in less than optimal condition? Acculink Cargo’s sensors can indicate precisely when and where the item experienced a sudden, severe shock – for instance, after being dropped on the floor – helping pinpoint exactly which party that took part in the transport is financially responsible for any damage incurred.
In some use cases, knowing the real-time location is sufficient, and additional environmental information isn’t necessary. Acculink Cargo offers solutions for these light freight tracking scenarios as well, via a disposable tracking device that can be placed in individual packages to provide real-time location data. In a world where more and more boxes are ordered online and sent out for delivery, this level of visibility means more timely deliveries, and less loss and theft.
The bottom line? Across a wide range of settings, companies now have far greater control over their supply chain. They can predict deliveries with accuracy, minimize waste and damage, and proactively mitigate against costly disruptions.
Between the inevitability of another global disaster or disruption like the pandemic and the growing ascendance of e-commerce, there will only be an increased need for companies to accurately track assets and understand their condition as they’re shipped around the globe.
Start with Sierra to learn more about how Acculink Cargo can provide you with increased visibility on cargo and other assets anywhere in the world, so you can be fully prepared to optimize your supply chain, even if unexpected challenges arise.
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