IoT in logistics: smart devices for inventory management

Warehouse inventory management, fleet monitoring, and asset tracking are just a few key applications of IoT in logistics.
30 March 2023

Inventory image: wider adoption of IoT in logistics is helping firms to keep better track of goods in supply chains. Image credit: Shutterstock Generate.

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Being able to monitor the whereabouts of drivers and vehicles and provide object identification and tracking in real-time, point to major benefits of IoT in logistics. But there are other advantages of smart devices for inventory management beyond fleet management and asset tracking. Other headline applications of IoT in logistics include predictive maintenance and warehouse inventory management too. Plus, there are other trends to keep an eye on, such as the deployment of smart solutions for last-mile delivery applied to packages and even personnel. Here, IoT in logistics can deliver not just the goods themselves, but also a great customer experience – something that increasingly separates leading firms from those with rising numbers of client complaints.

Big names offering customer solutions for managing the use of IoT in logistics include Amazon Web Services (AWS), IBM, Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft. And the fact that so many multinational firms are involved speaks to the global nature of modern supply chains and the importance of being able to deliver goods efficiently. And, when delays do occur, customers will want to be kept up to date so that they can manage the expectations of clients further along the supply chain and consider alternative arrangements depending on the severity of the disruption.

Platforms such as Azure IoT give clients tools for connecting and managing their IoT devices, as well as providing analytical capabilities. For example, Microsoft has Azure Stream Analytics, which enables customers to build robust streaming data pipelines and analyze millions of events at sub-second latencies, according to the firm. But Microsoft isn’t the only tech giant that can help connect, manage, and analyze smart devices for inventory management.

Use cases for IoT in logistics

Cisco’s IoT solutions extend to systems designed to improve public safety by optimizing traffic management for connected roadways and intersections. The focus of improving logistics may be to get goods into the hands of customers more rapidly and reliably. But examples by Cisco and others show that IoT in logistics can also reduce traffic congestion for other road users and potentially minimize carbon footprints. Increasingly, companies will be measured not just by their financial performance, but also by their direction of travel on becoming greener operations and managing the earth’s precious resources more efficiently.

Suppliers are already responding to customers’ wishes for environmentally friendly delivery options. And certainly in the last mile category it’s possible today to give clients greener choices thanks to rising numbers of electric vehicles, for example. But when it comes to air freight and shipping, it becomes a case of offsetting those environmental costs elsewhere – at least until green hydrogen and cleaner fuels take off. However, analytics platforms that connect to vehicles and assets can help keep track of the associated emissions so that companies can make corrections that tally with the scale of their operations.

IBM’s Maximo Application Suite has been deployed in energy and utilities, oil and gas, manufacturing, transportation, and a variety of other asset-intensive industries. Enterprise asset management (EAM) can help to keep tabs on production, maintenance and service processes as they age. And failure to do so risks that quality standards may slip. Here, cognitive insights from IoT data can have a positive impact, enabling firms to optimize their production and service systems based on real-time data and leveraging predictive analytics.

The productivity gains of smart deployments of IoT in logistics shouldn’t be overlooked, as competitors who find themselves lacking similar setups and services will struggle. For example, on TechHQ we’ve highlighted the growing trend for using drone technology to streamline warehouse inventory management. Ideally, with an efficient asset management system in place with real-time tracking capability, firms should know where everything is at any moment in time. And certainly, things are moving in the right direction with some impressive demonstrations of what can be achieved using modern technology.

Solving stock whereabouts issues

For example, denim giant Levi Strauss partnered with Intel back in 2016 and used the computing firm’s Trusted Analytics Platform to enable real-time tracking of its apparel in pilot stores. RFID tags added to clothing, together with beacons placed in store, meant that misplaced items could be easily found and put back in their correct spots. Retailers can rapidly lose sales if customers can’t quickly find the items that they are looking for. And having a digital twin of the store that shows both stock levels and locations is a game-changer.

Back at the warehouse – returning to the use of drone technology – automated flying robots can monitor stock by scanning barcodes and taking pictures of boxes piled on pallets shelved high, which may not be so easy for workers to access. In the past, warehouses would have to pause and set aside several days for a whole facility stock take. But today, drones can operate either when the warehouse closes for the day, or during quieter periods, and carry out inventory management at speeds that would have been unthinkable in the past.

Drones can highlight goods that may have been misplaced, mislabelled, or have spoiled, or been damaged. It’s just one example of how smart devices and IoT in logistics are transforming supply chain management. And these developments are by no means the end of the story.