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Improving logistics with IoT devices

By Richard Ventura

Concurrent with the rise of digital signage as a communications medium, the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) has gone mainstream as a technological approach. Annual worldwide revenues for vendors of complete IoT hardware and software systems are expected to exceed US$470 billion by 2020, according to global management consulting firm Bain & Company.

This trend represents profound growth for logistics, where such IoT-related technologies as Bluetooth wireless transmissions, radio frequency identification (RFID) and Z-Wave and Zigbee communication protocols, among many others, are enjoying rapid adoption because they enable organizations to better screen, manage and control important information, so long as such frameworks can be handled efficiently.

IoT devices are an optimal means for distributing data to digital signage networks, particularly those deployed in the logistics industry. Manufacturers, shippers and other types of businesses can communicate on-the-fly changes with each other, their employees and their customers simultaneously. By pairing IoT systems with displays, the right information can be delivered to the right people at the right time, whether in a factory, warehouse or consumer setting, for the purpose of improving productivity. In particular, they free their ‘audience’ from the burden of having to use a desktop computer, notebook computer or handheld mobile device to receive important announcements. Hands-free,at-a-glance access is a much timelier way to present messaging while keeping production and fulfilment processes humming along.

Playing well together

An IoT sensor attached to a product, machine, storage bin or other item can detect changes in the physical status of that thing.

A sensor within a smartphone manufacturing line bin, for example, can detect when the supply of a certain circuit board is running low. The sensor sends the data to the cloud, software picks it up for a centralized dashboard and finally the displays are updated with the new information, alerting employees so they can soon refill the bin in question. Further, with a sufficiently large-scale digital signage network, all managers and employees can remain aware of such production issues even when they are not close to the production line themselves.

Data can be displayed with graphs, charts and other simple images to make it quicker and easier to absorb. Specified sets on information can be rotated on a timed
or on-demand basis.

Boosting productivity

By pairing IoT systems with displays, the right information can be delivered to the right people at the right time.

By pairing IoT systems with displays, the right information can be delivered to the right people at the right time.

The fusion of IoT and digital signage can support a wide range of applications in logistics. A manufacturer might install screens throughout a factory to deliver real-time updates on a production line’s status, as mentioned, but by displaying the output of two different production lines, managers can encourage friendly competition, better motivate their teams and increase productivity.

Sensors can also help organizations identify any manufacturing processes that are lagging. By monitoring their digital displays, employees can know immediately when to refresh dwindling inputs of raw materials, while their managers can quickly pinpoint the cause of a slowdown and resolve any bottlenecks or other issues.

Digital signage is also the perfect medium for posting immediate warnings about unsafe conditions, such as a contaminant leak, and for directing employees toward the best evacuation routes.

Inventory at a glance

IoT and digital displays can also work together to improve inventory management. As products equipped with sensors are removed from the given inventory, software can keep track of the remaining stock in real time and send that information to a display.

This way, front-end employees and ‘pickers’ can see at a glance if there is low to no inventory remaining. The software can send an alert to the production line or the purchasing department, informing them when the inventory needs to be replenished.

The information can always be kept up-to-date, with no lags like in the old days of periodic inventory counts. Employees no longer have to track inventory physically.

IoT and digital signage can even provide information about changing warehouse conditions, providing alerts when temperatures, humidity levels or any other environmental conditions approach or exceed pre-established levels.

Tracking orders and delivery status

IoT sensors are helping todays’ enterprises track orders and their delivery status. Using digital signage to display such information, particularly with respect to critically important shipments, can help manufacturers both plan production processes and respond to changing conditions. Warehouse capacity can be adjusted, assets maintained predictively, routes optimized and last-mile delivery made more efficient.

IoT-based tracking can also improve the customer experience (CX), by keeping clients up-to-date on the status of their orders. By way of example, Maersk installed IoT sensors in its shipping containers to allow its customers to track the location, temperature status and other details of their shipments. (At the other end of the spectrum, Domino’s Pizza franchises track the status of their customers’ orders as they are prepared and send updates to in-store screens.)

Improving workflow

While both digital signage and IoT have gone mainstream, the manufacturing sector is lagging behind other industries in adopting them. There are many opportunities for such organizations to improve their flow of information and, as a result, their productivity. Indeed, to succeed in the future, they will need to achieve operational excellence through digital technologies if they are to remain competitive in an ever-changing marketplace.

IoT devices can enable quick and easy access to reliable data, but digital signage displays have become indispensable tools for actively delivering that information to key personnel in real time. Together, they are a powerful combination for logistics applications, as elsewhere.

Richard Ventura is vice-president (VP) of strategic management for NEC Display Solutions, a vendor of digital signage screens. For more information, contact him via e-mail at rventura@necdisplay.com.

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