Logistics is the lifeblood of global economy. The food and pharmaceuticals flowing along it are the key to keeping our connected world fed and healthy. But managing this circulation to ensure efficiency and safety is a complex undertaking, made even more so by stakeholders not being able to see what is happening throughout the process.
Clearly, we have both ethical and financial incentives to make sure this does not happen. Being able to minimize waste amounts would also help both industries to make the best use of all available resources and prevent unnecessary do-overs.
We can achieve this by improving visibility into the logistics process with IoT solutions. It isn’t really even that difficult. But what do you need to consider when choosing a visibility-enabling system?
Let me help you by going over some information on pricing, IoT system structures, and real-time data opportunities that you may encounter when setting out to pick a solution to improve your temperature-controlled logistics visibility.
Show Me the Money
You’d think that if there were easy answers to visibility in logistics, they would have been adopted by now. However, the problem is rarely with the relative ease or difficulty of the answers that can be offered. More often than not it is that the simple options are more expensive (at least in the short term) than the complex and fragmentary ones.
This means it is tempting to invest in one of the cheaper solutions, which may not be quite as user-friendly or up-to-date as one might hope, but which still offer added protection over just manual monitoring, and helps with regulatory compliance as well. And it’s entirely possible to keep the logistics chain going with these incremental improvements. But to use a simile, that’s more like bailing water out of your boat instead of fixing the hole in the bottom.
However, as it’s become clear that the more advanced systems can easily become prohibitively expensive to procure on an investment basis, many systems vendors have started banking on business beyond a customer’s one-time investments. They, just like Sensire, are moving on to Software as a Service (SaaS) model of doing business, where the customer effectively hires the system for as long as necessary (regularly for a few years at a time) and pays accordingly in installments.
The SaaS-model prevents the initial investment from becoming an impassable hurdle for technology adoption, although it can also mean that the whole sum may rise to be somewhat higher than with a one-time investment. The customer can then choose the payment option that best suits them.
System Size Matters
Beyond the price of a system, another thing to note is the how the system you are considering is structured. It’s no joke – systems have quite a lot of variance in how many different parts they need to function and how big these parts are.
For example, if you are interested in monitoring temperature with an IoT system, depending on where you need it, the system may include sensors that range from the size of a coin to something roughly the size of two fists. The bigger devices can fit perfectly for fixed environmental monitoring in a sub-zero warehouse, but not when you need to see what the temperature is inside an individual medical cooler. Then again, the very smallest monitoring solutions are often offline ones and still need manual checks or downloads to offer up any information. The variance in even this basic equipment is great enough that choosing a solution is no easy matter and will tend to require some compromise.
And not only that, if you’re looking to automate the whole data gathering process, then along with the measuring devices themselves you’d typically need some kind of additional equipment that would allow these sensors to connect to a central system. This could be a server at the customer’s premise or a cloud platform on the internet, and these can vary just as much as the sensors themselves.
From vendor-provided dedicated connection modems to smart apps for your phone, or a number of other methods for achieving connection, there’s quite a lot of variety in what kind of devices are used and how big or small they are. And on top of the sizes of the actual equipment themselves, the complexity inherent in different kinds of systems and how much manual work they require is also quite varied.
Depending on what you wish to accomplish, any one of these might be right for your operation. The kind of system you choose should of course always answer your need in the most efficient way possible, so it is good to keep in mind that not every system will be able to give you what you want by themselves.
Now obviously what I’m mostly discussing here has more to do with real-time enabling systems than those which are only required to work offline. This is not because real-time systems are inherently better at providing visibility than the offline ones (although, mostly they are), but because their uses are becoming more and more separate.
At a time when connectedness was not the norm, it didn’t matter much whether you used an online or offline system – and obviously the connected system would have been much more expensive than the offline one. And to be fair, this is still somewhat true. You can expect to pay more for having access to data in real time than if you only need a retrospective view of what has happened in your operation. But as I mentioned, these are increasingly becoming completely different beasts altogether.
Now, whereas offline systems are perfectly suited for recording data for later use, the online systems are becoming a part of process development and even process directing. Naturally being able to redirect processes immediately based on current information is something that might be merely nice to have for some business. However, there are certain operations where the capability to initiate corrective actions as soon as possible is quickly becoming absolutely must-have.
And two of these kinds of operations are precisely the two I mentioned in the very start of this post, i.e. pharmaceutical and food logistics. With sustainability becoming ever more important in business operations, both food and pharma logistics ought to be handled as safely and smoothly as possible. For this, the ability to correct any process that is about to go wrong is invaluable.
The End-to-End is Nigh
Naturally, enabling visibility in an end-to-end logistics chain it easier when you are the sole owner of your logistics operation. But the thing about these two logistics branches we’re talking of is that rarely is an international food or pharmaceutical logistics operation completely owned by just one organization from end to end.
And this is where an IoT real-time system really comes in handy, because the data from IoT systems doesn’t have to be proprietary. Online platforms enable much easier information sharing among stakeholder, making the end-to-end logistics chain able to effectively carry along all the data it has produced, which can then be checked if any trouble arises.
This enables not only immediate actions to thwart problems, but also lets you recognize any incremental deterioration of the shipped goods. It also lets you deal with actual root causes and improve the overall operation much in a much easier way than if you had to collects bits and pieces of information from a multitude of sources and in a variety of formats.
There would be much and more to discuss about the different kinds of technologies that can be used for real-time communication in logistics streams and the different kinds of uses they can be put to. However, there are people who are much more capable of telling you more about that, so to finish off this post, I direct you to check out our recent article, The Evolution of Environmental Monitoring, where our CEO and Technical Director discuss, among other things, how cellular IoT has developed to become a great choice for real-time monitoring purposes.
If you’d like to know more about how to best implement real-time IoT technology for your operation, we’d be happy to help! You can contact us through the site here, send us email to email@example.com or meet us personally at the Temperature Controlled Logistics in Biopharmaceuticals Europe 2019 (13th - 14th March 2019, Milan, Italy).