Electronics, whether consumer or industrial, are an important part of our connected economy. Many types of electronic products are sensitive to vibration and shock that can cause immediate damage or negative effects that only become known over time. Proper packaging helps somewhat but does not completely eliminate these risks. New advancements in supply chain monitoring technology help companies manage this risk better while shipments are in-transit and provide additional benefits to supply chain service providers as well.
When you ship high-value electronics, you are placing sensitive equipment in the hands of a third-party logistics firm or 3PL. In the past, this has meant that your goods have been entirely out of your control. These shipments can be both heavy and fragile, which makes them hard to ship without harm. Hospital beds and other medical electronics, robotic equipment and production machinery, server rack units and semiconductor production components are both mission-critical and easy to damage in transit. There are many events along the route which can exceed a tilt or impact threshold.
Humidity, movement, and shock can seriously damage certain types of electronic shipments. Other unfavorable conditions such as extreme temperatures can be just as destructive. Cold temperatures can reduce battery effectiveness or even damage internal elements of an expensive device such as a smartphone or tablet. Extended exposure to cold can cause condensation to form within electronic devices, which can damage sensitive components and render the device useless upon arrival. Without end-to-end visibility of your shipments, it is impossible to know the environmental conditions they have been exposed to during transit.
In fact, there is always the possibility that the shipment will not arrive at all. As the value of goods goes up, cargo theft becomes a concern. There are a number of ways a shipment can be diverted or stolen, some of which are not obvious until it is too late, such as the use of a false driver identity during pick up. Unless you know the location of each part of the shipment throughout the chain of custody, you cannot be sure if something is damaged, diverted, missing, or substituted.
Internet of Things (IoT) technology offers cost-effective smart solutions to reduce supply chain risk by providing visibility, alert notifications and data analytics that can help you make cost-saving refinements to your shipments. These sensors work with your transportation fleet or your contractor’s fleet because environmental data is transmitted to a cloud portal for easy access by all stakeholders. With this data, you can analyze which modes of transportation are safer for your goods, establishing accountability when damage occurs, and allowing pivots to correct a problem when something goes wrong in transit.
This is good news for today’s manufacturers and shippers, who must grapple with continually increasing demands to improve delivery velocity. To remain competitive, it is no longer enough to rely only on a traditional electronic data interchange (EDI), which concerns itself mainly with order placement and acknowledgement, shipment notification and invoicing. With EDI alone, there is little in the way of communication while goods are in transit, mainly because at the time these systems were designed, the technology was not capable of determining the precise location of a particular shipment.
The management tools available today are more sophisticated, but are only as good as the data available to them. That is where the key component comes in: sensor tags that provide real-time visibility into the location and environmental conditions of individual containers, pallets, or even parcels.
A sensor ecosystem, with tags added to each package or pallet in the shipment and connected via low-power Bluetooth, provides a stream of data to the cloud via a telematics gateway mounted to the container, vehicle or even warehouse. These sensor tags are low cost and designed to use power sparingly so that they can continue providing information reliably for global, multi-mode shipments.
This solution provides comprehensive, up-to-date information about the shipment’s location and condition. The location is available in real time, and geofences can be set to identify specific areas or locations so that alerts can be sent if the shipment enters or leaves particular zones. This is more powerful than passive monitoring: if a shipment goes off track, authorized people are notified instantly. With monitoring of environmental conditions, an alert generates if part of a shipment exceeds a preset threshold for temperature, humidity, vibration, or impact.
After handling a problem, it is important to determine what created the situation so procedures can be put in place to reduce these events in the future. This is where historical data from the sensors shows its true value. By recording the location and condition of every shipment over time, the technology makes it possible to perform an audit throughout the chain of control and custody.
Of course, most of the time things go as planned—but here, too, these solutions can provide a great deal of value. Real-time visibility along the entire supply chain delivers genuine, measurable, dramatic improvements to shipping velocity. It also helps provide up-to-the-minute information during the last mile, improving on-time delivery and the customer relationship.
Finally, analysis of trends in the data can help identify opportunities for optimization, lowering risk and improving customer satisfaction. With smart solutions connected to cloud-based IoT platforms, you can better protect your high-value electronics shipments from damage or loss, while gaining insight on how your supply chain is performing.