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Get rid of blind flows with IoT

The Digital Revolution is well underway, with 20 billion objects expected to be connected by 2020. Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network providers like Sigfox offer new capabilities to connect the physical assets around us and collect valuable data about how the world works.

Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives create huge opportunities to follow real-time industrial and finished goods flows, to decrease lead-times and costs, to optimize production, and to offer new services to clients. As such, they herald a new era for the connected Supply Chain and the development of new business models.

One way to bring value to the Supply Chain is Asset Tracking. In a Supply Chain organization, some flows are followed accurately and carefully monitored through various integrated systems like ERPs. However, when the Supply Chain is complex and involves many actors like suppliers, sub-contractors, and transportation companies, it becomes very challenging to have an end-to-end view. Supply Chain managers are almost blind on some parts of the physical flows, which creates instability in the Supply Chain, reduces planning accuracy, and significantly reduces agility, while increasing lead-times.

Asset Tracking with IoT is a way to get real-time visibility of ‘blind flows’. Enhanced control of physical flows will help Supply Chain manager to reduce uncertainty and significantly improve their Supply Chain agility thanks to:

Lead-time reduction initiatives based on a clear understanding of flow waiting times

Optimized planning and better priority management

New services for clients
(visibility of delivery)

We identified three typologies of ‘blind flows’ where IoT adds value:

Intercontinental flows like sea-freight with long lead times

Production flows involving external players like suppliers or subcontractors

Equipment monitoring,
like reusable packaging

Intercontinental sea-freight flows


Today, there is a lack of reliability in monitoring intercontinental sea-freight flows. On average, one intercontinental shipment involves 200 interactions and more than 20 different players – freight-forwarders, in-land transportation companies, port handlers, consignees, customs, shipping lines, ship-owners, marine insurers, etc. In this context, shippers often complain about the difficulty in getting real-time visibility of their sea container shipments and they have no real guarantees about storage and transport conditions.

A solution to these problems is to use IoT trackers to track sea-freight containers in real-time. The shipper places sensors in the container during the loading process. They enable real-time geo-localization from the departure warehouse to the final warehouse, including all transit ports. They also detect when the container is unloaded on arrival at the port, and the onward transportation conditions.

The IoT solution contributes to optimizing service levels for clients:

Lead-time reduction

From an operational standpoint, the detection of the container’s unloading at the arrival port helps to accelerate logistics operations at its destination (truck booking and customs) which can lead to a reduction in lead-time of several days. In the long term, analysis of the data collected helps to identify the best routes or transporters and to further optimize lead-times. Lead-time reduction can help increase agility and reduce inventory.

Alerts about delays
Alerts help to trigger corrective actions (for example urgent shipping), to better manage priorities between clients, and to improve supply chain planning. Shippers can monitor their shipment status at any time and can identify delays or advances vs the initial plan (missed departure, missed transshipment, etc.)

New services for clients
In the case of direct deliveries to the client, shippers can offer additional services like visibility of delivery for their clients

Guarantee transport conditions
Relevant for some specific goods (wines and spirits, perishable goods…)

IoT offers a plug-and-play solution (no infrastructure, independent sensors with long runtimes, competitive prices). Another key advantage is that the solution is totally independent of transporters and shipping lines as the shipper can choose the flows that they want to track within the geographic scope of the network coverage.


Production flows involving external players

In some industrial sectors like aeronautics, perfumes and cosmetics, luxury, pharmaceutical industry and capital goods, some production flows are highly complex:

Long lead-time, multiple layers (up to several hundreds of suppliers and sub-contractors)

Difficult to follow the physical flows of the parts or components
as they are handled by many external players that are not
connected to a single system

Difficult to plan work on the final assembly line due to poor visibility of supply of multiple parts or components

Today, getting visibility of these flows is often managed manually, due to a lack of information. This poor visibility of production flows in the chain often results in missed deadlines and negatively impacts the service to the clients.

A solution to these problems is to use IoT trackers to monitor the progress of production workflows between players that are not connected to a single information system. The sensor can be attached to the component or its packaging, and it will follow the production flow. The data gathered from the device (geo-location, motion detection, parcel opening...) can then be processed with a refined analytical approach and translated into a production status which can be used by the client.

Therefore, the IoT solution improves the agility of the industrial supply chain:

Gain real-time visibility on the physical flows of parts or components managed by external players and save the time spent monitoring them (compared to doing it manually)

Better synchronize the industrial supply chain by feeding the tracking data into a dedicated control tower supply chain tool

Enable an accurate, step-bystep
lead-time measurement that will help to identify waiting times and launch collaborative actions to reduce them


Equipment fleet monitoring

The third use case is the management of equipment. The most relevant example is the use of reusable packaging in some industries:

In mass distribution, products are delivered to stores on reusable roll cages or pallets, some of which are isothermic

In the automotive industry, suppliers must deliver their parts in some reusable rolls or parcels

Reusable packaging flows are quite intricate as they involve a reverse loop (when they are empty) and they require regular maintenance and cleaning. Supply is critical, as goods cannot be shipped without it.


There is a real difficulty in managing a range of equipment spread over a large area and amongst third parties. It is a big challenge to locate the equipment, have real-time inventory information, and properly manage its supply. There are high levels of equipment loss and damage which go unaccounted for.

The objective is to track this equipment and have real-time visibility of the entire estate.

The solution is to use trackers attached to the equipment to provide easy, real-time geo-location and permanent inventory. This enables one-click inventories and reduces losses. The real-time visibility enabled by the solution leads to lead-time reduction and optimization of the size of the estate. In addition, tracking devices provide valuable data on the utilization of the equipment and can help with the maintenance.

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