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From Suppliers to Shoppers: How IoT Streamlines Supply Chains

Telink Staff

April 3, 2024

Applications

Woman with tablet looks at a box on a shelf in a warehouse.

Fewer supply chain inefficiencies, more productivity, and better transparency are possible, thanks to IoT.

To the average consumer, a product or service is simply an object or entity that fulfills a need or desire. But to the people responsible for sourcing, creating, and transporting the product, it’s an amalgamation of hard work, coordination, and intricate logistical expertise. In fact, supply chain logistics serve as the backbone of global commerce, orchestrating the seamless flow of goods from production to consumption. Yet, outdated systems and processes often grapple with obstacles, delays, and a general lack of visibility.

With nearly a quarter of retail purchases expected to move online by 2026, logistical systems that depend on manual tasks won’t be able to catch up to this rising demand of consumers who want fast shipping, transparent inventory tracking, and real-time updates. However, these gaps yield opportunities for IoT to thrive. 

The Role of IoT in Supply Chain Logistics

Like the cogs in a wheel, a supply chain cannot function properly without all its components working well together. IoT helps ensure that every touchpoint along the chain optimally functions with the help of sensors, RFID tags, GPS trackers, and smart devices that capture real-time data. IoT protocols like Bluetooth®, Thread, and Matter help facilitate seamless communication between these devices so that the entire physical infrastructure transmits data without bottlenecks.

Additionally, cloud services, powerful algorithms, and AI-driven analytics improve data processing and storage by accommodating vast influxes of data and extracting actionable insights. Through automation and smart technology, IoT offers organizations a plethora of added benefits:

Enhanced Visibility and Traceability

IoT enables real-time monitoring of goods throughout their journey, reducing the opacity that often plagues supply chains. With sensors and RFID tags embedded in packages, containers, and vehicles, stakeholders gain unprecedented visibility into the movement and condition of goods. This transparency minimizes the risk of disruptions, delays, and losses, fostering trust and reliability in the supply chain ecosystem.

Minimal Human Error

By automating data capture and analysis, IoT mitigates the risk of human error inherent in manual processes. Gone are the days of relying on outdated spreadsheets or handwritten logs. With IoT-enabled solutions, inventory counts, shipment statuses, and quality metrics are updated in real-time, ensuring accuracy and consistency across the supply chain.

Real-Time Inventory Management

IoT empowers businesses to transcend the limitations of traditional inventory management systems. Smart shelves equipped with Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs) automatically adjust prices and update inventory levels as products are removed or restocked. This real-time visibility into stock levels and consumer demand enables proactive decision-making, optimizing inventory turnover and minimizing stockouts.

Live Tracking for Loss Prevention

Loss prevention is a perennial concern in supply chain management, with theft, damage, and spoilage posing significant financial risks. IoT-enabled tracking devices, coupled with geofencing and tamper detection capabilities, provide real-time alerts in the event of unauthorized access or deviations from planned routes. This proactive approach to security enhances asset protection and deters potential threats, safeguarding valuable cargo throughout its journey.

What an IoT Supply Chain Looks Like

The beauty of IoT is that it holds plenty of opportunities for integration. In a supply chain, this means IoT does not have to be confined to a single stage or touchpoint. Instead, it can permeate the entire logistical infrastructure to optimize productivity, safeguard against potential delays, and accelerate time-to-market.

Using a general supply chain structure, here’s how IoT can be implemented at each stage:

Raw Material Sourcing

Sourcing materials to create a product involves a series of procurement processes that require an efficient inventory management system. Here, ESLs can help digitize price tags and product information so that sellers can adjust pricing according to market demand and buyers can rely on up-to-date costs. This helps inform and speed up purchasing decisions for smoother transactions. Additionally, indoor asset tracking systems that use IoT technology to pinpoint the location of a specific item offer real-time visibility that allows businesses to minimize search times and maximize resource utilization.

Manufacturing and Production

Once raw materials are procured, the focus shifts to creating the product. In this stage, IoT can refine supply chain management by automating inventory tracking and replenishment processes, ensuring that production lines are adequately supplied with materials and components. Predictive maintenance algorithms can also monitor equipment health in real time, detecting anomalies and scheduling maintenance tasks proactively to prevent costly downtime. This way, manufacturers can extend the lifespan of their equipment and maintain uninterrupted operations through dependable and simple IoT supply chain management.

Warehousing and Distribution

Here, IoT technology can help businesses monitor environmental conditions during transit and storage to preserve product quality and integrity. Condition monitoring sensors can be used to collect data on temperature, condensation, humidity, and other factors that might impact the quality and viability of a product. In regards to transportation logistics, IoT can enable route optimization algorithms to find the best delivery routes and reduce travel time, fuel consumption, and overall operating costs.

Retail and Customer Fulfillment

Once a product hits stores, that doesn’t mean IoT should be left out of the equation. IoT can help provide a reliable and satisfying shopping experience for customers while making retailer responsibilities easier to manage. For example, ESLs can be implemented to allow retailers to relay accurate pricing information to customers so that there aren’t cost discrepancies. Meanwhile, AI-driven inventory management can help retailers manage product availability while generating forecasts for better planning.

IoT in supply chains goes beyond achieving efficiency — it empowers stakeholders to make more confident and timely decisions that can help cut operational costs, improve product quality, and enhance customer experiences from each end of the supply chain.

What We Can Expect from IoT in the Near Future

As we move toward the future, there will be new opportunities to leverage IoT as innovators, developers, and creators brainstorm new ways to make supply chains even more efficient. Several emerging technologies are already poised to shape the future of logistics—here are a few to keep an eye on:

  • Autonomous Vehicles and Drones: Autonomous vehicles and drones offer the promise of unmanned delivery operations, reducing reliance on human drivers and opening up new avenues for last-mile logistics. By leveraging AI-powered navigation systems and advanced sensors, these vehicles can navigate complex environments safely and quickly.
  • Energy-Efficient Technologies: From electric vehicles to solar-powered warehouses, sustainable technologies offer a path towards greener, more eco-friendly supply chains.
  • Big Data Analytics: Big data analytics platforms leverage machine learning algorithms to uncover correlations within incredibly complex supply chain data, empowering businesses to make well-researched decisions, drive continuous improvement, and upgrade their current supply chain analytics.

Reimagining your supply chain with IoT capabilities and features can seem daunting, but with the right family of products at your disposal, businesses can enjoy a seamless transition that’s well worth the investment.

Embrace IoT in Your Supply Chain with Telink

From wireless connectivity protocols to IoT-integrated hardware, Telink offers a comprehensive suite of SoCs tailored to the needs of logistics professionals. We’re always thinking several steps ahead, designing state-of-the-art semiconductor chips that achieve the low-power-consumption, high-performance capabilities our fast-paced world demands. Whether it’s location services, ESLs, or multiple device connections, Telink has the solutions you need to take your supply chain from a limited structure to an adaptable, operational powerhouse.

Visit Telink’s wiki to learn more about our development tools, or ask us a question through our Technical Forum or by contacting us directly today.