IoT Blog
IoT Blog

Using the IoT to Transform Supply Chain Asset Tracking

Despite concerns about possible trade wars, the amount of goods traded around the world – and the number and size of the supply chains through which these goods flow – continues to grow. For example, the World Trade Organization (WTO) anticipates strong merchandise trade volume growth of 4.4 percent in 2018, in part thanks to strong economic growth around the world. If enterprises want supply chains that allow them to succeed in today’s trade-dependent economy, supply chain and logistics managers must optimize asset control and tracking systems to avoid shipping delays, production bottlenecks, insufficient inventories and, ultimately, lost sales.

New asset tracking solutions that take advantage of sensors to collect real-time data for up-to-the-minute location awareness and new operational insights promise to deliver more goods faster, more consistently and at less expense. The potential rewards are huge – a recent report found that $1.9 trillion of economic value could be created by the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and asset tracking solutions in the global supply chain and logistics sector. However, to build these asset tracking solutions, OEMs and system integrators must overcome key technical challenges.

For example, many containers and pallets are transported through remote areas with poor connectivity and limited global positioning system (GPS) coverage. They may also be stored indoors, reducing GPS tracking effectiveness. Attempts to use tracking devices have also been held back by high power consumption, which reduces the life of their batteries, making them expensive and impractical to use for many asset tracking use cases.  

However, new IoT technologies, including advanced wireless modules and SIMs specifically designed for IoT use cases, are enabling a new generation of asset tracking devices to allow tracking even in very challenging environments. They also support lower power consumption, which results in longer battery life and a higher ROI for these asset tracking solutions.

Asset tracking systems built with these new technologies offer significant benefits to supply chain and logistics managers. Consider the complex supply chain of automobile manufacturing, which requires the coordination and timely delivery of thousands of components. IoT asset tracking can monitor the entire lifecycle of these assets from a single pane of glass, enabling extremely efficient responses to any disruption in the supply chain. In the medical industry, this precise tracking can also support increasingly complex regulatory requirements related to the condition of shipments. Precise IoT asset tracking can reduce the $30 billion a year lost to cargo theft, while a more efficient supply chain also improves inventory management, enabling companies to reduce the amount of idle stock in their warehouses, deliver the right products to their customers when they want it and reduce the time employees waste scrambling to find missing assets. New asset tracking systems can even help companies create new revenue streams by using IoT devices on their assets to devise new services or pricing models.

Implementing IoT-Based Asset Tracking Across the Supply Chain

The first consideration in developing an asset tracking system is choosing a technology vendor that can deliver a device-to-cloud solution (DTC). DTC solutions ensure interoperability across hardware, software and the network, whether the company is building its own asset tracking application or buying a pre-built asset tracking application. In both cases, end-to-end DTC solutions will make it easier to bring together data from various IoT devices, so that this can be collated and managed from a single operational dashboard. DTC solutions also simplify collection and analysis of this data for insights that can be used to improve supply chain efficiency. In addition, DTC solutions reduce the chance of security gaps emerging between the device, network and cloud, allowing companies to better safeguard their asset tracking devices and data. Further, DTC solutions enable companies to use the cloud to simplify deployment and maintenance of IoT devices, while supporting easy implementation of new asset tracking capabilities.

It is also essential to insist on a vendor that possesses strong experience building IoT DTC solutions, along with a broad existing IoT ecosystem. Many vendors are just breaking ground in IoT, and their level of experience in building out global end-to-end solutions and the extent of their partner ecosystem can make the difference between a project that succeeds and one that fails.

Sierra Wireless has been a pioneer in developing IoT solutions and offers all the essential hardware, software and services that supply chain and logistics managers need to build a complete IoT-enabled asset tracking solution, including:

  • GNSS Positioning Modules: Available with or without an integrated antenna, Sierra Wireless’ GNSS positioning modules for the IoT enable asset tracking OEMs and system integrators to easily build new tracking devices or add location-based services to their existing devices. The industrial-grade GNSS positioning modules provide high-performance GNSS positioning, are ultra-compact and feature low power consumption. These modules can connect to Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA – see below) networks, as well as to 4G, 3G and 2G networks. This allows developers to more easily build inexpensive yet powerful devices for large-scale asset tracking system deployments for a wide range of use cases.
  • Smart SIMs: The Sierra Wireless Smart SIM is designed for mission-critical mobile and fixed IoT use cases, including asset tracking solutions. Smart SIMs not only deliver multi-operator coverage, which improves data service availability and quality, but are also more resilient to outages than cell phones SIMs. They also have the durability to withstand adverse weather conditions, including the temperature extremes and damp environments that assets in transit can experience. If assets are damaged or are in an area with poor coverage, these SIMs can keep working even in poor conditions, alerting a logistics manager of the situation.

  • mangOH®: Sierra Wireless’ mangOH open hardware platform enables rapid supply chain device prototyping with industrial-grade components. MangOH eliminates the need for expensive proprietary technologies that can quickly become obsolete, and the platform delivers up to 90 percent of a prototype asset tracking application’s hardware and software out-of-the-box. This speeds time to market and enables developers to focus more time and resources on enhancing the functionality of their asset tracking application.

  • LPWA solutions: Sierra Wireless’ LPWA solutions support lower data rates, which makes them suitable for connecting large volumes of IoT asset tracking devices, each of which needs to transmit only small amounts of data. The result is that the devices consume less power and have much longer battery life, making them more cost-efficient and reliable for large-scale asset tracking deployments.

  • AirVantage® IoT Platform: The cloud-based Sierra Wireless AirVantage IoT Platform enables enterprises to rapidly deploy and manage secure global wireless IoT services for monitoring asset shipments using a single pane of glass. The platform’s connectivity management features allow enterprises to remotely track and manage the power and lifecycle of their embedded asset monitoring devices, and application enablement features provide data orchestration to enable enterprises to adjust application rules and introduce new application capabilities. The AirVantage IoT Platform also allows companies to configure their devices’ connection settings, adjust the amount of data transferred (and thus, power consumed) by their devices and deliver updates to devices that help keep them secure.

  • Managed IoT Asset Tracking Solutions: Through its recent acquisition of Numerex, Sierra Wireless can provide pre-built managed asset tracking solutions for several different use cases. Sierra Wireless asset tracking managed solutions include robust applications that combine smart devices and diverse networks to wirelessly track, monitor and manage a variety of high value assets. Specific solutions include the iManage manufacturing optimization and high value asset tracking solution and FASTrack Fleet, a fleet tracking and theft recovery solution.

Being able to accurately track assets as they move through global supply chains can provide enterprises with powerful competitive advantages. With Sierra Wireless and its DTC solutions platform, which incorporate the latest GNSS, Smart SIM and LPWA technologies, these enterprises can deploy mobile asset tracking systems that digitally transform their supply chains. With the valuable insights that asset tracking solutions provide, enterprises can reduce product theft and damage, lower inventories and deliver better customer service. They can even use these systems to create new business models and not just transform their enterprise’s supply chain, but the way they create and deliver value.

There is $1.9 trillion in value waiting to be created by enterprises able to fully utilize IoT devices and asset tracking solutions. The question is – which supply chain and logistics managers will do so?

Read the Sierra Wireless white paper, How IoT Enables Mobile Asset Tracking Throughout the Supply Chain and Start with Sierra to find out more about how Sierra Wireless’ complete line of IoT solutions can help you reinvent your asset tracking system to deliver more assets, faster, more securely and at a lower cost.