How edge computing will revolutionize logistics:
With the onset of massive technological advancements in the IoT world, we are beginning to see similar upgrades in the realms of logistics and supply chain solutions. Amazon is one player that is constantly innovating on logistics within the consumer space, but they are not alone. Check out Gartner’s figures and estimates on the world of IoT in logistics and supply chain management:
- As of 2015, there were 8.4 million IoT connections in the supply chain industry.
- Just 10 years later in 2025, Machina Research projects that there will be 96 million of those same IoT connections in the supply chain.
- Currently, thousands of RFID tags are printed and used for tracking purposes.
- By 2022, that number is expected to grow to 2 billion RFID tags.
To say the least, there is going to be a lot more interconnectivity in the world to come. Whether that means turning on your shower with your watch or setting your alarm with your toaster, we don’t know. Whatever it may be, the drastic increase in the use of sensors (like RFID tags) and IoT connections in logistics and supply chain management will create the potential to improve both business and consumer outcomes. These technologies support computing at the edge, rather than the expensive, time-consuming process of pushing large amounts of data to iot cloud platforms.
Businesses will be able to track a much wider variety of data inputs and act on them, to produce lower-risk, higher-profit outcomes for their customers. And they’ll do it in ways they never could before - thanks to edge computing and advanced enterprise iot solutions.
Why now? As with changes in any industry, there’s a critical mass gathering to drive adoption of edge computing. Here are just a few factors that have galvanized the movement to edge computing in logistics:
The cost of RFID tags has dropped significantly in recent years.
Though RFID technology is a newcomer to the popular lexicon, it’s been around for quite some time with development starting around WWII. Compared to barcode tracking, RFID tags can provide much more sophisticated inputs. Imagine being able to track things like location, temperature, movement, humidity, and vibration, for example.
And rather than sending all these data from the individual sensor up to the cloud, businesses can direct them to an edge computing platform. The edge can ingest the data, process it, and package only critical pieces for cloud transmission, acting as the local gatekeeper through its interactions with the sensors. Together, they can create powerful opportunities for businesses.
Depending on the product, businesses may need to track just a few inputs or many of them. The type of sensor used for specific scenarios will vary based on requirements, and the cost to produce those sensors will vary as well. As an example, the manufacturing process for RFID tags has become much cheaper thanks to advances in printable electronics technology - down to fractions of a cent, in many cases. This drop in price of RFID tags makes it much more feasible for businesses to use them.
The gains available with edge computing are significant.
In addition to the price of sensors coming down drastically, there are many benefits to using them. Gathering critical data inputs based on business goals can drive numerous outcomes. Here are just a few use cases:
Let’s say you run a racing event that delivers highly-specialized, expensive components all over the world and you want to track those assets in real-time. In order to secure these components, they are placed in locked containers and welded directly to the deck of the ship. Sometimes these welds break and containers move or are lost because they slide right off the deck - sending expensive, critical components to the bottom of the ocean. That’s right, some fish is currently furnishing the replacement bumper for your Bentley as his new villa.
Now, imagine a new scenario involving sensors operating on an edge computing platform. Each and every component is tagged with a sensor to monitor vibration and movement. The edge is programmed to raise a flag if an anomaly is detected, so if welds break and a container is dislodged it can be re-secured to prevent a massive loss.
Optimization of supply chain processes
Managing the operations of a busy port is a complex task. The port of Shanghai is considered the biggest in the world, based on the amount of cargo that passes through it annually. It processes more than 2,000 ships every month and handles 25 percent of China’s overall foreign trade. Seriously, the traffic on that port can be rivaled to the traffic in a Dairy Queen on 4/20.
Big ships move slowly, and they hold different kinds of cargo with differing delivery requirements. It’s important to know what is on each ship, what condition the contents are in, where the goods need to go, and by when. That’s quite a lot to keep track of.
With RFID sensors on shipped products and edges tracking data from those sensors, port managers can sequence boats as they come into port for optimal unloading. Before ships approach the port, cargo data can be evaluated to line them up for entry. Ships with highly perishable goods and urgent deliveries can come first, while less urgent or non-perishable goods can fall back in line. Compared to fog computing techniques, utilizing an edge computing platform is an overall safer and more secure strategy.
For many logistics and supply chain managers, reducing risk is a daily struggle. Every day, railway companies work to prevent the incidence of collisions at railroad crossings. Sensors and barriers are installed at crossings to alert drivers and pedestrians that a train is approaching. In order to update those crossing sensors, railroad company staff have to roll a truck out to each individual crossing box to update software onsite.
By adding an edge to each railroad crossing box and sensors in targeted areas at the crossing, railroads can avoid the costly, inefficient process of sending an employee to each crossing site. And what’s more, they can monitor the data from sensors to make real-time safety decisions - like stopping a train if it’s clear that there’s a stationary person or vehicle on the tracks.
Businesses can leverage their existing infrastructure for edge computing.
In many cases, the adoption of new technology is slowed by a lack of infrastructure. Businesses may want to take advantage of all a new technology has to offer, but they just don’t have the framework in place to support it. Infrastructure can takes years to build, and the new technology may be rendered obsolete by the time the business is ready for it.
One of the biggest benefits of utilizing an edge computing platform is that companies can make use of existing infrastructure to enable it. Railroad companies can use infrastructure that has been in place for decades to transmit signals, rather than performing costly upgrades. Satellite communications companies can leverage their networks for the same purpose. Rather than building from scratch, edge computing can plug into already-existing (and well-functioning) infrastructure.
Logistics is about to get a facelift from edge computing.
All these changes to logistics and the supply chain are happening now, and they will forever change the way the industry operates. What are your predictions for how edge computing will revolutionize logistics? Tell us in the comments.