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The Internet of Things (IoT) uses a combination of sensors, RFID tags, and wireless connectivity so that assets, equipment, and consumer products can communicate with end users and original manufacturers. That connectivity can enable not only remote control of the items (as in a “smart home” system) but also remote repair and troubleshooting for manufactures and field service companies.

IDC predicts that IoT spending will grow to $1.3 trillion by 2019, and Gartner has estimated that more than half of new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the IoT by 2020, when billions of connected items will join the network.

The explosion of the Internet of Things will also improve the supply chain. In fact, supply chain ecosystems and processes could be among the IoT’s biggest beneficiaries. The connection of all of these vehicles, assets and products will provide unprecedented visibility and control across the entire supply chain. The IoT can provide improvements in productivity and efficiency, and each element in the supply chain will be able provide valuable data about product locations, temperature and product conditions, purchases, and repairs. Using that data, companies could potentially improve forecasting, automatically restock inventory, reduce spoilage/damage, and be able to respond more quickly to changes in demand.

New Levels of Automation

With input from devices about their health and performance, processes could be put into place so that items can automatically place orders for needed repair parts in advance of a failure. This can accelerate delivery of parts, and also provide more accurate forecasting information for manufacturers and logistics companies.

By applying IoT technology to supply chain assets (such as vehicles or shipping containers), companies also gain more up-to-date information about the location of goods as well as their condition. This could be particularly valuable for cold chain applications where shippers need to know that produce or frozen food, for example, was kept within a specific temperature range to avoid spoilage or contamination.

In retail stores, data from smart shelves, point of sale systems, and the products themselves can be combined to anticipate out of stocks and place new orders automatically. Manufacturers could also obtain data on how consumers are purchasing their goods, and get feedback from the items themselves on how they are being used.

Combining the Internet of Things with analytics solutions could also help companies redesign existing supply chain processes to optimize the use of assets or streamline transportation networks.

The Role of Mobility

These benefits will depend on connectivity. In many sectors, that type of end-to-end connectivity may not always be possible. That’s where mobile technology can help bridge the gaps in the Internet of Things.

For example, in remote areas there may not be ready access to an Internet connection or a reliable wireless network. In those cases, field service employees, delivery drivers, and other remote staff can use mobile computers to gather data (by scanning barcodes or RFID tags) and then uploading that updated information when they are able to connect to the network.

Honeywell, for example, offers a number of devices that can read both barcodes and RFID tags for these applications. The company’s snap-on IP2L module adds RFID capabilities to its CN70 mobile computers, while the IP30 RFID handle can be added to several of the company’s mobile computers.

The Internet of Things can enable a higher level of supply chain intelligence by combining location, environmental, and product data in a way that was not possible before. By leveraging the IoT, supply chain managers can achieve new levels of accuracy and productivity, as well as create new business models.

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