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Could the IoT Alleviate Post-Brexit Supply Chain Problems?

March 19, 2019 by Luke James

With Brexit looming, it is time to consider how the IoT could alleviate supply chain problems and provide new opportunities for British businesses.

In early 2018, over two-thirds of all KFC branches in the UK had their supply of chicken suddenly fall foul and stop overnight. The result was chaotic for the company and while it was all fun and games for Twitter users and journalists, it illustrates just how delicate these vital logistics arteries are and how easily they can be disrupted.

Complex supply chain networks are at the core of any successful commercial enterprise and, as such, any potential disruption to them requires immediate remedying. This is where the IoT comes in: it is beginning to change the way supply chains are managed for the better.

IoT and Supply Chains

Much has been written about the IoT and how it is going to have a direct impact on virtually every single industry on the planet. From automotive to healthcare, there is nothing that the IoT won't have an effect on (if it has not done so already).

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

One of the most notable areas that IoT is likely to have an impact, though, is with supply chains and the delivery of more transparency and operational efficiency. While this isn't the most exciting area the IoT could make huge changes, it is one of the most important. So-called 'Logistics 4.0' will use cutting-edge computing technology and the IoT to deliver real-time automated 'sense and respond' feedback systems.

Today, supply chains are about so much more than the mere delivery of an ingredient, material, or end product—they can be leveraged to gain a competitive edge within an industry.

There are many organisations that have recognised this and have begun using the IoT as a part of their supply chains. Three notable examples are:

1. Rogue Ale

Rogue Ale is a producer of hops that are used in the brewing process for 'fresh hop' and 'wet hop' beer. As they are not dried, they must be quickly shipped out, delivered to, and used by breweries within 12 hours of being harvested otherwise they will start to spoil. Using a system of connected sensors, Rogue can keep an eye on temperature and humidity data of all its shipments during transit, helping to preserve the product.

2. Safer Pharma Products

During transport, vaccines and other pharma products can be spoiled by several factors. Broken refrigeration trains, vehicular accidents, transport time, and even the weather can all throw a spanner in the works. Thanks to AI and the IoT, though, it is possible for real-time assessments to be made using data and predictive analysis that can help to avoid running into these problems. When hazards can be accommodated for, the end product is at a lower risk of being complicated.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

3. Union Pacific Railroad

Union Pacific operates the largest railroad in the US and has recently introduced IoT for the monitoring of its equipment reliability and current condition. Their clever IoT system can predict when equipment is close to failing by using acoustic sensors on railroad tracks. This helps to foresee and avoid train derailment, a major problem that can jeopardise the delivery of materials, equipment, or an end product.

It is smart IoT sensors and AI that are helping to deliver better operational efficiencies through asset tracking, forecasting, and predictive analysis, among other things, within modern supply chains.

Where Does Brexit Come into This?

Although it seems that almost everything is in some way or another being somehow connected or related to Brexit, it is important to consider how the UK leaving the EU could disrupt supply chains. In doing that, it becomes immediately obvious just how the large-scale adoption of the IoT could negate some of this disruption.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

As we saw above, it is data, analytics, and insight that are at the heart of the IoT. By being able to collect data through various processes and use AI to analyse it, organisations have a deeper and richer understanding of what is happening not only within their organisation but their industry. With this improved understanding comes a greater insight and this, in turn, aids supply chain management.

Knowing where a shipment is in real-time, being able to check in on a time-sensitive product's current state, and predicting potential hazards and supply chain disruptions save time and money. It also helps to reduce waste and reduce operational costs (therefore increasing competitiveness.)

While none of this directly relates to Brexit, a no-deal scenario will almost certainly cause problems at the border and halt the supply of many goods to the UK. For a country that is at present uncertain about how it is going to trade with the world, particularly in a no-deal scenario, it is vital that there is a greater understanding of the opportunities that the IoT affords supply chain management.

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