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Handle with Care: How the IoT Now Enables Monitoring of Sensitive Assets Throughout the Supply Chain

by Benoit Tournier, Director of Marketing, Transportation

Over the past decade, the Internet of Things (IoT) has transformed logistics, enabling shippers to track the location of assets as they move through the supply chain – in real-time, if necessary. However, though enterprises have become very good at using the IoT to track the location of assets, until recently they have not been widely used to monitor the condition of food, seeds, medicine and other assets that are sensitive to environmental changes while they are in transit. This inability to monitor changes in temperature, light, shocks and other conditions can lead to significant damage to sensitive assets, which can cause a ripple effect, with delays in shipping and product delivery; higher costs for suppliers, manufacturers and consumers; and even (in the case of medicine) negative health consequences. For example, a shipment of seeds damaged by excessive heat can delay the planting of crops, resulting in a smaller harvest. A shipment of vegetables that freezes or spoils can lead to shortages in stores, lowering sales and reducing customer satisfaction. And a shipment of vaccines or other medical treatments damaged by exposure to low temperature or direct sunlight could lead to more people getting sick during a disease outbreak.

Until recently, high costs and technological hurdles hindered the development of IoT applications able to monitor in real time the condition of assets as they moved through supply chains. However, recent innovations – Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networking technologies, IoT data orchestration platforms and open source hardware and software– are enabling enterprises to break through the technological and economic barriers that slowed the deployment of IoT applications able to monitor asset conditions while they are in transit.

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LPWA – LPWA networking technologies, such as LTE-M and NB-IoT, feature significant cost, power consumption and coverage advantages over other cellular data technologies. By using these technologies, enterprises can lower the cost of asset monitoring IoT devices, making it less expensive for enterprises to deploy devices with sensors for temperature, light and shock. In addition, LPWA technologies reduce the amount of power needed by these devices to transmit data on asset conditions, increasing these devices’ lifespans. LPWA technologies also deliver strong coverage in rural areas and indoor, helping ensure that critical updates on an asset’s condition are communicated no matter where the asset is currently located. By reducing the cost of asset monitoring devices, increasing their lifespan and enabling them to communicate asset conditions from areas where other wireless networking technologies cannot reach, LPWA technologies improve both the economics and capabilities of IoT asset monitoring applications.

Data Orchestration – Along with LPWA, new data orchestration platform also enables the development of more cost-effective and functional asset monitoring IoT applications. Data orchestration solutions allow enterprises to dynamically balance processing at the edge or in the cloud. For example, filtering data at the edge transmitted by the device, so that only data indicating a potential problem with the asset is communicated, will preserve precious battery power. Data orchestration platforms can also be used to update and change an asset monitoring device’s capabilities, so the temperatures at which an asset sends an alert can be adjusted, a light or shock sensor can be activated and other asset monitoring application “rules” and functionality can be changed. This increases IoT asset monitoring devices’ flexibility, enabling enterprises to use the same device to monitor various types of assets. Data orchestration platforms also provide enterprises with the ability to use a single application to monitor a number of different environmental conditions, rather than deploy several siloed applications and devices for each one. In addition, data orchestration solutions allow enterprises to manage all their devices from a single management console, simplifying security updates and other administration tasks.

Open Platforms – The increasing development of open software and hardware, such as the Legato® open source embedded software for deep edge devices and mangOH™ open source hardware for IoT, eliminate the need to rely on expensive proprietary technologies that can quickly become obsolete, while providing more application flexibility and longevity. Plus, by delivering up to 90% of a prototype application’s hardware and software out-of-the-box, enterprises do not have to “reinvent the wheel,” allowing them to focus more time and resources on enhancing the functionality of their asset monitoring application, while also speeding time to market.

Sierra Wireless has been a pioneer in developing these innovative new technologies and currently offers enterprises a comprehensive set of device-to-cloud solutions for building and deploying new IoT asset monitoring applications, including:

  • Embedded LPWA Modules: Sierra Wireless’ WP and HL series IoT modules can connect to LPWA (and 4G, 3G and 2G) networks and enable enterprises to more easily build powerful devices for new IoT asset monitoring applications and bring them to market faster. For example, the WP Series of modules feature an ARM core application processor with dedicated Flash and RAM running Legato, enhancing security, reducing system complexity, and lowering costs. In addition, an integrated GNSS receiver enables tracking and location-based services, and an ultra-low power mode reduces power consumption. The WP Series’ integration with mangOH open hardware platform enables rapid prototyping with industrial-grade components, while its integration with Sierra Wireless’ AirVantage® IoT platform provides data orchestration capabilities along with a secure device-to-cloud architecture.
  • AirVantage IoT Platform: Sierra Wireless cloud-based AirVantage® IoT Platform provides enterprises with the capabilities they need to rapidly build, roll out and manage global wireless IoT services for monitoring asset shipments. The platform’s connectivity management features allow enterprises to remotely track and manage the power and lifecycle of their embedded asset monitoring devices. In addition, its application enablement features provide enterprises with the data orchestration capabilities they need to adjust application rules and activate new application capabilities. The AirVantage platform also allows enterprises to configure device connection settings, adjust the amount of data transferred (and thus power consumed) by a device and deliver smart updates that optimize security while minimizing battery usage – all from the cloud.
  • mangOH and Legato for Open Platform Development: As mentioned above, the mangOH open hardware with Legato open software enables rapid prototyping and faster time-to-market for new cellular-enabled asset monitoring IoT applications. For example, the new mangOH Red platform, introduced in the fall of 2017, features a built-in accelerometer/gyroscope, pressure and light sensors, along with a 26-pin Raspberry Pi-compatible connector, making it well-suited for developing asset monitoring IoT applications.

Innovative new LPWA, data orchestration and open platform technologies like these enable enterprises to build IoT applications that move a step beyond just location tracking, to monitoring changes to assets’ temperature, light and shock conditions. With these applications, enterprises can move beyond just knowing where their assets are in the supply chain, to what condition they are in as they are being transported, allowing them to take corrective action to avoid damage or minimize the impact of damage to medicine, food, seeds and other sensitive assets. “Handle with Care” is no longer just a phrase to write on a package in the hope it will ensure that the package gets to its destination in the same condition as it is was shipped. It is now a new capability enabled by the IoT that further enhances supply chain efficiency and economics, helping ensure that the food we eat, the seeds we plant and the medicine we deliver arrives in the same condition it was in when shipped.

Start with Sierra to find out more about how Sierra Wireless’ device-to-cloud solutions can help your enterprise reimagine its supply chain in a connected world.  

Originally published via Enterprise IoT Insights