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5 Ways the IoT Is Improving the Shipping Industry Now

MeganRNichols
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lots of packages

The Internet of Things (IoT) encompasses a massive range of connected products and applications, ranging from smart speakers to intelligent security systems. It’s no surprise that business leaders are eager to take advantage of such innovations to improve their operations. Here are five ways the IoT is making the shipping industry better.

1. Monitoring Environments Associated With Temperature-Sensitive Goods

Appropriate temperature controls are essential for some specific product categories, such as delicate medications or perishable consumables. If those products are put in places that do not meet their temperature range requirements, they could become ineffective or dangerous to use.

People often discuss sensors and IoT products together. Many connected gadgets can detect adverse environmental conditions, such as prolonged warmth or moisture. They then alert the relevant people to problems that could affect the quality of shipped goods.

One solution intended for shipped pharmaceuticals collects data from 8,000 wireless mobile sensors and makes the information available to people via smartphones. Besides giving temperature statistics, it also detects potential tampering and can even remind the end-user to take their medication after receiving it.

Such solutions also give companies more visibility. If a customer complains about spoiled goods, the parties that shipped them to their destination can look through the supply chain and use data from remote sensors to verify where things went wrong.

2. Saving Fuel in Cargo Vehicles

Fuel savings in vehicles used to transport shipped goods could help companies’ bottom lines. IoT equipment could remove much of the guesswork associated with what shipping companies should do to reduce the amount of fuel required for operations.

One approach is for land-based fleet companies to invest in sensor-driven performance monitoring solutions. They could pick up on driver habits such as stopping and starting too fast, gunning the engine and driving around corners with excessive speed. These behaviours can negatively impact gas mileage. Plus, they may increase dangers for others on the road. Identifying those issues is the first step to corrective coaching.

Another IoT option that saves fuel involves improving the engine management for cargo ships. One possibility integrates with the vessel’s propulsion control system and causes an average of 10-15% in fuel savings per day after a business completes an initial period to calibrate the system. That solution combines the IoT with big data and artificial intelligence algorithms.

Reducing fuel usage is only one potential way for a shipping company to save money, but it’s crucial. Advanced IoT technology can tweak the engine performance to match environmental conditions like road traffic or higher-than-average ocean waves. That means company leaders may also avoid issues such as mechanical failures due to operator errors.

3. Improving Parcel Tracking

Research shows that global e-commerce transactions experienced a 19% increase in July 2020 compared to a year earlier. More people are buying things online, and that trend keeps shipping companies in high demand. However, some shoppers are not satisfied with vague updates about when to expect parcels. They prefer timelier updates. That’s why FedEx underwent a substantial digital transformation that provided customers with more transparency, among other perks.

Rob Carter, the company’s chief information officer, explained, “We’ve been very busy over the last couple of years building out what we call sensor-based logistics. The criticality of the shipment today may be what warrants a sensor being embedded that allows you to actively track that shipment throughout its journey. We expect virtually everything moving in supply chains will have embedded sensors over time.”

He added that the lightweight, low-energy Bluetooth sensors used now enable the company to see a parcel’s progress in aircraft carriers, its facilities and elsewhere. That information helps FedEx representatives pass accurate information to customers, avoiding setting the wrong expectations.

These parcel tracking advancements are undoubtedly promising, but they would not have happened without supporting innovations that make IoT products withstand harsh environmental conditions, such as conformal coatings. These polymeric films are typically between 25-250 micrometers in thickness and protect circuit boards against specific hazards. Silicone resists moisture while polyurethane protects against abrasion.

4. Boosting the Efficiency of Last-Mile Delivery

Improving last-mile delivery is a continual concern for the shipping industry. When products arrive late, customers complain. Many lose patience after having a few unsatisfying experiences.

Company decision-makers have explored various high-tech possibilities for reducing last-mile challenges, including automated solutions like drones and wheeled robots.  One market analysis firm believes automated delivery technologies will generate between $33-48.44 billion in revenue by 2030 but only deliver a small percentage of overall parcels.

That’s why humans will still assist with most last-mile deliveries for the foreseeable future. For example, a cloud-based platform combined with sensors and IoT data can show managers the precise locations of all active delivery trucks, then make appropriate choices that help drivers avoid obstacles like traffic backups or road construction.

Improved performance monitoring is also possible. Perhaps a manager notices that a driver often takes breaks that are five minutes longer than allowed after looking at IoT data. They could then approach the worker with the statistics and determine if it is an intentional error or something that requires disciplinary action. Every minute matters in last-mile logistics.

5. Facilitating Better Packaging Operations

The shipping sector benefits from improved packaging options due to IoT innovation. For example, robots can carry products to different parts of a warehouse, saving time for the people who place the goods in boxes. Other automated options arrange packed items in the right orientation, then seal the parcel. Then, companies save time and can increase output.

There’s also an IoT system that walks employees through each step of preparing items for shipment. A worker starts by scanning a barcode to confirm the product awaiting packing. That action launches instructions on their Wi-Fi enabled device, such as a smartphone or a tablet.

Getting such guidance is vital for new workers or people who are becoming accustomed to the challenges of packaging cumbersome or extremely fragile items. Plus, this system prevents people from using incorrect amounts of protective material to ensure products arrive at their destinations safely.

IoT equipment can identify packaging shortcomings, too. A company representative in a shipping brand’s quality control department might notice an uptick in customers reporting problems such as torn boxes or the absence of labels denoting fragile items. If so, connected sensors could pinpoint which supply chain parties neglected to fulfil their duties.

The IoT Will Help the Shipping Industry Gain Strength

The five examples here are some of the ongoing applications for the Internet of Things within the shipping sector. As more companies investigate and adopt them, the industry as a whole will enhance their operations and avoid ineffective processes.

Shipping professionals should continue to stay abreast of improvements, too. It’ll then be easier to envision how new IoT products could help a business grow and improve performance.

Megan R. Nichols is a freelance technical writer and blogger. She writes regularly for sites like American Machinist, DZone, and Electronic Design. Megan also enjoys writing easy to understand science and technology articles on her blog, Schooled By Science, to encourage others to take an interest in STEM. When she isn't writing, Megan enjoys watching movies and hiking with friends.

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