Analyst Insights on IoT in the Logistics sector

Transport & Logistic

Logistics is about the safe transportation of goods to customers across the world.  This entails tracking goods from production, storage (warehouse), through delivery and receipt.  There could be many participants in the delivery supply chain, which may go halfway around the world.  Suppliers need to know where their asset is at all times and its condition – late delivery may cause contractual losses, increase spoilage or hold up further supply chain processing by partners.

1.  Key issues in the sector

There are many challenges to the industry depending on distances covered, the length of the supply chain, and the nature of the cargo.

  • Cargo theft is a major cause of delivery problems. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, cargo theft has increased by around 25 percent.
  • Unauthorised Intrusion into warehouses, storage areas and vehicles.  In addition to theft, there is a growing problem of individuals stowing away in shipments, which increases insurance costs and can result in spoilage of goods. Illegal immigration has also led to human tragedies, with deaths a more frequent occurrence.
  • Cargo spoilage – foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals – results from temperature or other breakdowns.  A third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted – temperature sensitivity accounts for a good portion of this.  Food supplies are also being disrupted due to to the war in Europe in Spring 2022.  The pandemic has necessitated the safe transportation of vaccines over long distances.
  • How to avoid all types of waste is important to saving costs and time – wasting fuel, energy, journey times.  In the Spring of 2022, the price of fuel has escalated – impacting on inflation and thereby increasing political instability.  

2.  How IoT is addressing these challenges

  • Automation: Logistics operations are moving towards increasing automation.  This will fulfil several necessary goals for the industry, including timeliness, efficiency, rapid turnaround of goodsand worker safety.  All of this goes with the digitisation of previously paper-based and manual processes and the integration of data, to connect with upstream and downstream processes. 
  • Connectivity: Indoor and outdoor asset tracking are different; they range from indoor tracking (in a warehouse) to outdoor tracking on long journeys, e.g. via highways, railway, shipping. There are a number of options to set up connectivity to enable tracking to obtain the needed data. 

    Technologies for IoT-based asset tracking include cellular, RFID, Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi, Nearfield, Cellular, and for long distance tracking LoRaWAN, satellite or a mix (hybrid).  Satellite-based solutions have diversified of late and can be tailored to consider speed, latency, bandwidth, and importantly, cost.

    Seamless tracking of goods across whole supply chain (multipart) via cellular can include public and private cellular networks.  5G in conjunction with private cellular networks would fulfil the need for immediacy, and reliability of data collection needed for operations and decision making.

    LoRaWAN is ideal for asset tracking applications.  It can connect devices that are miles apart and penetrates deep into buildings.  LoRaWAN devices are designed to operate at low power, extending their lifespans and reducing the need for costly maintenance.  LoRaWAN is secure; the data transferred between LoRaWAN devices is encrypted.  A LoRaWAN gateway uses location data that does not rely on GPS, making it an option for location-dependent applications, including indoor tracking.
  • Solution Design: Digital twins are used to represent the physical environment of warehouses, allowing improvements to be tested virtually.

    Calculating RoI – this needs to balance any reduction in the value of the asset against cost to assure the asset’s integrity.

    Organising security across the whole supply chain is key, comprising both physical and cybersecurity.

    Lone worker protection is implemented in different settings (e.g. long-distance haulage, warehouse, yard security).

3.  Applications using IoT

  • In the warehouse: automation of operations using autonomous self-guiding vehicles, robotics for moving heavy goods; automating stacking, retrieval, loading and transporting goods thereby reducing errors, increasing speed of task.  Operational equipment monitoring in real time, with predictive maintenance to anticipate and minimise machine downtime.

    Robotics control can also be integrated with warehouse management systems and enterprise resource planning software.  Lone worker protection in the warehouse – avoiding risk of people being struck by heavy moving equipment.

    Environment monitoring in warehouse or container e.g. for presence of gases, temperature.

    Drones for Yard inspection outdoors, Warehouse drones for inspection indoors.
  • In transit: Order tracking and management

    Inventory management and smart freight management e.g. Digital Bill of Lading.

    A relatively recent type of application supports Covid-19 compliance and social distancing.  This helps companies enforce Covid-19 site health and safety procedures for the workers.  It enforces on-site social distancing while applying digital tracing to workers who have handled the merchandise.

    Predictive maintenance for delivery vehicles, warehouse and other machinery.  Monitoring wear and tear on fleets and predictive maintenance to detect imminent breakdowns.  This includes railway and maritime transportation.

    Fuel waste prevention: Optimising vehicle operations through connected vehicle telematics.  These services are now widespread and include fleet management, best route finding and reducing wasted trips, optimising vehicle use by drivers, monitoring fuel usage etc.

    Cold chain for pharmaceuticals, vaccines and refrigerated foods; in-vehicle remote monitoring of temperature with alarm notification if the temperature is raised to unsafe levels.  Environmental sensing, to maintain cold temperatures for pharma products; also to assure on-site and in vehicle air quality and comfortable temperatures for workers.

    Cargo theft detection, intrusion detection into locked premises and vehicles.  Stowaways are a hazard with people trying to reach destinations unlawfully; their presence can cause spoilage of cargo and increase insurance risks.

    Lone worker protection; connecting remote field workers with their base of operations, sending alarms in case of attack.

    Security and access control of sites with perimeter security, geofencing to send a signal if the vehicle exits a designated area.

4.  How the IoT World Map can assist

IoT solutions have several different elements and can be complex. This complexity will also increase with more use of real time processing, the introduction of private networking and the rollout of 5G. Each of these offers major benefits in this sector but assistance from IoT solution experts with specific knowledge of the logistics sector is increasingly needed. This presents a difficulty for IoT buyers, who typically have to identify which suppliers have specific knowledge of their application areas.

The IoT World Map is arranged so that those requiring IoT solutions can access the map knowing only the applications they need support for in their own sector. IoT suppliers who have direct logistics sector experience and can assist specifically in such solutions can be readily identified and contacted.

The aim of this is to assist IoT buyers to proceed more quickly to solution design and implementation.

Robin Duke-Woolley
Beecham Research


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