Labels on products that we buy can tell us a bit about the origins of that product, but they don’t tell us the whole story. There are many ethical questions that can be asked: Where was the product made? Who made it? What were the working conditions like for this person? Where did the different components come from? Who owns the company that made the product? Where do they make/spend their money? What are the environmental implications of the manufacturing/packaging/transporting of the product? And so on.
The American writer Thomas Friedman found that the components of his Dell laptop originated from a possible forty different factories in sixteen different countries. So it’s not just the final product that needs to be investigated, but all of the component parts as well.
A recent article from CoinDesk reported that developers are working on an application that will be able to outline and address all questions that someone may have about the supply chain of a given item using blockchains.
Block chains can create a formal registry to identify individual goods, and track possession of a good through different points in a supply chain. Internet connected equipment such as fishing boats, shipping trucks, and storage coolers can monitor which objects they’re housing and tag those objects with relevant environmental conditions like temperature or location, providing assurance that a product was safely handled through the entirety of its journey. It can tell you, for example, where the fish you are ordering at a restaurant comes from!
On a personal level, restaurants could list the ingredients in a dish and this new application would be able to tell the diner where the crops came from and how they were grown. Not only will this be transparent, but it should also give consumers a sense of control — an appealing concept for many discerning “foodies”. And it gets even more interesting as consumers will be able to not only see where their food comes from but also buy local produce, participate in reward programs and know the story of food from paddock or sea to plate, in many different ways. This puts a new slant on how your local farmer’s market will operate. Read more about how this app will change your food purchasing forever.
For business this type of technology along with the Internet of Things (IoT) will open up a whole new world.
The IoT is most often mentioned in a consumer context—perhaps a scenario where a smartphone “talks” to a coffee maker and tells it when to have the coffee ready, or a refrigerator sends a text message alerting the consumer that it’s time to buy more milk. But the IoT is not simply a facilitator of consumer convenience. That’s because the IoT allows for visibility where there previously was none. It captures data where it previously was not possible. It therefore provides supply chain and logistics managers with something they often lack: the visibility and data necessary for supply chain optimisation, and it gives business a new edge.
The IoT represents the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. Physical objects are equipped with technology (such as sensors, processors and connectivity) that enables the object to send and receive information via fixed-wire or wireless communications links to the Internet, and to then transmit information in one form or another. The McKinsey Global Institute defines IoT devices as those that “can monitor their environment, report their status, receive instructions, and even take action based on the information they receive.”
For example in this supply chain scenario: The IoT refers to data communication among a large range of assets or devices—from your inventory to its container, from the container to the carrier, from the pallet to the warehouse. The more your assets can ‘speak’ to one another and share data, the more they can work together to help you improve your processes.
You might think that this capability would still be rare. But the number of Internet-connected devices that could potentially function as part of the IoT is growing exponentially. In 2003 the world’s population stood at 6.3 billion, and there were fewer than 0.08 devices per person. By 2010 the global population had increased to 6.8 billion, and the number of connected devices had increased to 12.5 billion—or 1.84 devices per person. For the first time, the number of connected devices exceeded the number of people in the world. The explosive growth of these devices was largely fueled by the release of iPhones, other smartphones, and tablets.
That growth was just the beginning. The networking systems company Cisco Systems estimates that the number of IoT-capable devices will increase to 50 billion by 2020. Morgan Stanley believes the number will be higher: The investment banker estimates that there will be 75 billion IoT devices by 2020.
How does this relate to facilities management?
The arrival and exponential growth of the IoT has spurred what is being called ‘the fourth industrial revolution’. So how does the IoT affect the supply chain. Two factors that would benefit facilities management are 1. predictive maintenance and 2. operational efficiency.
1. Predictive maintenance
Predictive maintenance programs for machines and other equipment can utilise sensors and connected devices to monitor and react to problems in applications as diverse as facilities management, large-scale manufacturing and diagnostics on the family car. This self-diagnosis capability can detect a potential problem before failure, order a replacement part, and even schedule maintenance to avoid costly downtime. Further, the use of the IoT to stay ahead of maintenance issues has implications on an industrywide scale. With continuous retrieval of data from equipment, for instance, managers can better see problematic trends that could affect future work, forecast inventories and expenditure, or ensure consistent safety measures.
In relation to home automation, predictive maintenance will become integrated into our everyday lives. Appliances will become smarter, more efficient, and easier to monitor. Internet-connected sensors will be embedded into everything from appliances like washing machines and dryers to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. These connected appliances will perform self-diagnosis, determine the most cost-efficient time to operate, and even automatically order maintenance parts when needed. This capability holds so much promise that companies like GE are investing heavily in these technologies for both commercial and industrial applications.
2. Operational efficiency
Leveraged correctly, the IoT improves communication, productivity, and management. New systems and devices are creating more connected networks with exponentially higher data output and processing power. The resulting wealth of data can be analyzed and used to connect systems and inform decisions about operational functionality, such as building management and machine-to-machine communication. Connecting systems and equipment helps businesses realise previously untapped operational efficiencies.
The Internet of Things is already having a big impact on supply chains. Moreover, as the number of devices grows and the capabilities of IoT devices continue to evolve and develop, the impact on the supply chain will become even greater.Developments are moving along so quickly that some industry specialists are warning that supply chain managers should be looking at the potential of the IoT right now, not later.
The sheer amount of real-time data afforded by the IoT is game-changing. As more companies integrate the IoT and connected devices into their operations, a gap will be created. On one side will be companies that have embraced the Internet of Things, and on the other side will be those that have not. Companies that embrace the IoT will move forward, meanwhile leaving those who do not use the data to fall behind.
The number of ways the IoT could impact supply chains—and vice versa—is incredible, and that number will continue to grow.