Uncontrollable “mother nature” does not mean uncontrollable business operation

The recent barrage of “nor’easter” storms hitting the East Coast, tornadoes rolling through the South, atmospheric river events and mudslides hitting the West Coast, and thousands still without power in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria — these are just a few examples of how extreme weather has become an almost normal disruption in our daily lives. Rest assured, these weather patterns can wreak havoc on unprepared businesses.

Businesses in high risk weather areas are consistently facing familiar scenarios, where storm systems bear down on their environments and have the power to impact operations. When weather rolls in, industries often have to halt processes as storm systems make it too dangerous to send employees into work. Beyond travel safety, organisations must also consider the potential for structural damages to their facilities, says Hans Thalbauer of SAP.

Consider industries like grocery where to stay afloat, supermarkets need to have a robust inventory available to customers at all times – an inventory that is delivered by truck drivers who receive products from warehouses. Whipping winds, however, may cause warehouse destruction. Slick roads may mean drivers can’t make deliveries. Power outages may result in product spoilage. Various factors have a direct impact on operations.

While weather can unpredictably keep drivers off the road and bring destruction to facilities, the supply chain industry is, in fact, already working to stay a step ahead of mother nature. Just as meteorologists can forecast rain and snow, executives can forecast demand.

Businesses are frequently creating strategic production plans for when the weather is set to move in by utilising information like the Doppler radar, providing them with the ability to reduce production hiccups in spite of precipitation unease. For instance, by preparing inventory before a storm hits, grocers can ensure that they do not run out of stock, in turn keeping customer satisfaction high.

While industries are taking advantage of this “power of prediction” to keep their supply chains up and running in the wake of weather, as forecasts can shift in an instant, Industry 4.0 technology is bringing an even higher level of sophistication to the supply chain. Advances in connected technology has the power to alter this scenario and keep businesses functional throughout natural disasters.

Remote operations with digital twins

Although seemingly futuristic at first glance, digital twins are bringing virtual reality capabilities to today’s world. With digital twins, businesses can be instantly connected to operating systems from remote locations through sensors. This means that intelligent analysis and digital inspection of things like wind turbines, air conditioning and ventilation systems, offshore vessels and heating can happen from anywhere at any time.

Consider a wind turbine located on a remote wind farm in Havoysund, Norway – a climate marked by sub-zero temperatures, 100 mph winds and long, dark nights for much of the year. The wind turbine suffers a technical failure due to severe weather, but it is unrealistic to send an inspector to climb the 400-foot-high energy source and inspect the failure in real-time in these conditions.

Using AI and machine learning, the digital twin provides a digital replica of the wind turbine by way of connected sensors installed in key locations throughout the turbine. Through these sensors, engineers can obtain key information including structural and performance stressors, and even avoid downtime before it happens.

Accountability through the elements with blockchain

With the unpredictability of storm systems, it is crucial that logistical processes are held accountable to ensure that high importance documents do not suffer inaccuracies. With severe weather rolling in, organisations do not have to simply sit back and hope that documentation is not disrupted, lost or ruined due to power outages, flooding or shipment errors.

Hans Thalbauer

With blockchain, transactions can be instantly accredited and all who need access to information will continue to have it throughout the course of and following a storm. Severe weather does not have the power to alter the linear fashion that complex processes continue to move in through blockchain, keeping key financial and logistic information secure.

Tracking goods with IoT predictive analytics

IoT predictive analytics can also help businesses prepare for the weather’s ramifications before precipitation hits. For instance, IoT sensors support “track and trace” technology. With these sensors, shipments and transporter locations can be monitored. As a result, businesses can remotely find the boat, plane or train carrying goods being delivered. With this tracking ability, inventory can be rerouted in order to avoid weather patterns to be delivered to the right place at the right time, keeping customers satisfied.

While weather is inevitable, Industry 4.0 technology increasingly has the power to keep processes consistently moving forward in the wake of urgent weather warnings.

The author of this blog is Hans Thalbauer, SVP, Digital Supply Chain and Internet of Things, SAP

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