Remote Monitoring Applications in Supply Chain

Recently, the global supply chain has experienced unprecedented challenges that have driven costs to record highs. Coronavirus concerns have fuelled a simultaneous massive adoption of remote supply chain management and operations in multiple industries.

With increased pressure to boost safety, productivity, and efficiency from a distance, supply chain companies must innovate to stay competitive and resilient.  This includes critical investments in automation technology and processes to continually improve supply chain management.

That’s precisely where IoT-based remote monitoring solutions come into play. Advancements in wireless connectivity and IoT sensor technologies afford supply chain managers a simple way to make the transition to remote monitoring thereby ensuring continuous peak performance.

Here, we will cover top applications related to IoT-based remote monitoring in the supply chain.

How does IoT-based remote monitoring work?

IoT-based remote monitoring often entails a cloud-based system comprised of at least four major components: a centralized data-access interface, alarm system, a network of data collection devices, and the cloud service.

  • Data collection: The remote monitoring lifecycle often starts with a series of data collection devices, the majority of which are data loggers or IoT sensors that continuously monitor various conditions such as moisture levels, temperature, etc. These powerful, compact devices remotely gather data from all equipment and points throughout your supply chain.
  • The cloud: A critical portion of the system, the cloud is responsible for storing, analysing, and reporting data from critical monitoring facilities and areas across the supply chain. It also alerts appropriate staff to any anomalies found in the data.
  • Data Access: The system typically has a cloud-based, centralized interface that can be accessed via PC, smartphone, or tablet. This makes it easy for supply chain managers to access data remotely at any time and from anywhere they might be. This is true whether a single freezer or many warehouses across the world are being monitored.
  • Alarm system: With real-time data monitoring and analysis, it’s a simple matter to detect deviations or discrepancies anywhere in the supply chain. As stated by Dickson, the system can be configured to send out emails, phone calls, and email alerts so that personnel can quickly take corrective actions.

With a high level of condition monitoring and historical and real-time data access, organizations can better manage their supply chains.

1- Improving employee safety and health

Since the coronavirus pandemic has already caused many companies to favour remote working whenever possible, such remote monitoring is another way to promote employee safety and health.

Some of the jobs in the supply chain ecosystem still need onsite presence. However, with predictive maintenance, asset management, and condition monitoring solutions, organizations can at least partially switch to a remote workforce without compromising business integrity. Environmental data collected by data loggers from warehouses, shipping equipment, and other essential facilities can be employed to consistently and constantly manage the supply chain from anywhere.

Failure of equipment or deviations from required conditions is inevitable, but the alarm capabilities of remote monitoring solutions can immediately alert the supply chain management team to any problems. This instant and direct communication between the monitoring system and responsible personnel means that a smaller onsite workforce can respond to problems almost immediately, thereby causing much less loss of product and company profit. 

The most impact can be felt in scenarios where workplace conditions may jeopardize employee safety and health.  Cloud-based remote monitoring systems can allow employees with high-risk concerns to keep an eye on the supply chain even when they are not actually on site.  This saves companies money because employees are less likely to become sick and are able to continue working even if they are immuno-compromised, as noted by one recent study examined by the BBC.

2- Protecting valuable assets

IoT-backed remote monitoring systems can play a massive role in safeguarding sensitive items such as drugs, vaccines, and food. This added level of protection is paramount to supply chain players in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare, medical devices, and food & beverage logistics.

For example, Covid-19 vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, must be kept at ultra-cold conditions during transit and storage. If the vaccine temperature were to go out of range during storage for whatever reason, manual measuring of conditions could take hours, if not days, to detect the deviation in conditions.  By that time, a large quantity of vaccine wastage and financial losses could  run into millions of dollars.

The vaccine temperature, humidity, and other environmental conditions can be monitored, recorded, and documented in real-time with a remote monitoring system.  The high level of visibility and timing afforded by remote monitoring could be the difference between delivering effective Covid-19 serum and a vaccine shortage.

3- Quality control and assurance

Quality assurance and safety control are two critical areas where remote monitoring systems can prove indispensable. By allowing personnel to access and analyze environmental data in real-time, remote monitoring allows for quick and effective diagnosis and prevention of quality control issues.  This proactive approach can optimize supply chain dependability and productivity, as well as lessen waste and remediation costs. 

Environmental factors can have a considerable impact on the integrity and quality of products at any point of the supply chain. For instance, an equipment failure at a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant can denature ingredients and render drugs ineffective. Similarly, the breakdown of a truck freezer can result in spoilage of produce being delivered. 

Remote monitoring provides a consistent stream of environmental data, so that supply chain managers can immediately detect anomalies, identify causes for the anomalies and quickly take corrective actions.  Clearly, this can help bring an organization’s quality control and assurance to the next level.

4- Cutting operational costs

At a time when most companies are reeling from pandemic-caused economic difficulties, any possibility of reducing supply chain operating costs is most welcome.  Reduced operational expenses are one of the most prominent factors driving cloud-based remote monitoring adoption.

For one, predictive maintenance associated with IoT-based remote monitoring can help minimize unplanned downtime, which is estimated to cost companies more than $50 billion annually. This is quite notable in the production end of things, where maintenance costs can account for up to 40 percent of operating expenses.

Remote monitoring can also help with inventory management, reducing insurance costs, freight-in, and storage costs.  Another benefit to remote management of the supply chain is that it often requires fewer onsite personnel, thereby minimizing overall labor and operational costs.

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