Networking your goods on the Internet of Things and tracking them along the entire supply chain gives you an advantage in the globalized, and thus increasingly complex, logistics landscape.
Real-time data from mobile goods is hard to come by: Containers and pallets are transported through remote areas, goods are stored in buildings and cellars. Low mobile phone and GPS coverage makes their location difficult. Using locating devices with low battery life is often unprofitable and impractical. The Internet of Things (IoT) provides a solution: with digital, networked asset tracking solutions and new technologies.
LOW POWER WIDE AREA: HOW THE IOT WORKS
In order to be able to track and monitor goods worldwide, it’s necessary to rely on help from space. New GNSS modules (Global Navigation Satellite System) improve the location of mobile goods across the world, as they use both the American GPS system and Russian GLONASS satellites. Signals from orbit are one part of the equation, while a stable radio connection for the tracking module on Earth is the other. It won't work without it. However, the 2G/3G/4G mobile service is not available everywhere. For applications in the IoT, where – in contrast to the mobile internet for smartphones, for example – usually only small data packets are transmitted at long intervals, using a mobile network is also too cost-intensive.
A new generation of so-called LPWA technologies (Low Power Wide Area) provides the solution. These standards, which are based on mobile communications such as Long Term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M) or NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT), have been developed by the mobile communications committees cooperating in the 3GPP initiative especially for small data transmissions on the Internet of Things. They offer several benefits:
- The LPWA signal penetrates deep into warehouses and cellars and ensures reception even in remote areas.
- The cost of data transmission is low.
- The modules consume very little electricity: This additionally reduces costs and ensures a very long lifetime.
- In addition the devices don’t need much storage capacity.
The LPWA connectivity modules have a correspondingly simple design and can therefore be manufactured cheaply and distributed and installed extensively.
EDGE COMPUTING AND FAST NETWORK SWITCHING
The concept of edge computing brings further advantages: If the data is processed directly at the source in order to transmit only relevant information, this additionally reduces transmission costs, the bandwidth required and the storage space in the cloud.
Logistics can also benefit from new developments in SIM cards. The eSIM (embedded SIM) is permanently installed in the tracking module and can be programmed remotely. It’s not tied to a particular mobile phone provider and thus gives the logistics company greater flexibility for cross-border transport: providers can be changed quickly and easily. Special IoT or M2M SIMs (machine-to-machine) are also more robust than the conventional smart cards installed in smartphones or tablets. They’ve been developed to withstand all weather conditions during transport, as well as the high temperatures in industrial environments.
LESS DELAY, MORE PUNCTUAL DELIVERY
There are other digital and technical developments that can benefit the logistics industry. For example, asset tracking: If the pallet, container or vehicle is stable and constantly connected to a monitoring platform in the cloud, the freight company always has an overview of the position of the goods. Arrival times can be forecast precisely, which makes customers happy. If bottlenecks occur, routes can be rescheduled to prevent delays for production operations. This also reduces the demurrage fee for trucks or the mooring fee for ships in the port. And in the event of theft, a container’s route can be tracked precisely.
CONSTANT MONITORING OF THE CONDITION OF THE GOODS
Then there’s the example of Condition Monitoring: Transport companies use the appropriate sensors to constantly monitor the condition of the goods. Whether it's the cooling temperature in the trailer, the pressure in the gas tank or moisture in the cargo hold – problems and causes can be identified and documented remotely. Anyone who digitalizes the entire supply chain also gains insurance security.
POTENTIAL FOR NEW BUSINESS MODELS
The use of IoT in logistics also offers the potential for new business models. With a supply chain that is optimized and always transparent, companies can fulfill customer wishes such as same-day delivery or real-time tracking of goods via smartphone. Networking and seamless monitoring also allow for the establishment of new rental services: The customer only pays for the actual journey time of a freight car, the weight moved by crane or the distance covered by a container.
IoT Marketing Communication Manager
Pamela Buchwald has been part of the Telekom cosmos since 2016 and is very familiar with the Internet of Things. From general IoT trends to industry know-how and connected mobility, the blog highlights exciting topics related to connected things.