What level of visibility can you reach with IoT in supply chain?

What level of visibility can you reach with IoT in supply chain?

Natalia Figas
February 17, 2021  | 10 min read

Many claim that IoT location tracking devices have an impact on transportation and visibility in the supply chain. But has any independent company or organisation put this statement to test?

Authors: Natalia Figas, Jakub Grabny

 

Actually, yes.

We did ;-)

We compared five popular real-time data tracking devices by Kizy Tracking, Logmore, Lightbug, TrustedGlobal and Cellocator

  • to check their performance (e.g., battery life),
  • learn about their features (e.g., tracking shocks on short distance),
  • evaluate their usefulness in improving supply chain visibility,
  • and check how wireless sensor networks work.

After the 2-month testing period, we released the report, Independent tests of location tracking devices, deeply describing the topic.IoT location tracking devices report

And in this post, we summarise our main observations from the tests and share our thoughts on the level of visibility you can gain with 5 popular IoT location tracking devices.

And add some humour to light the topic up a bit 😉.

 

IoT in transportation. Short and medium distances tests.

Ring-ring! You have just received an SMS from your boss.

- Everything’s fine?

- Yeah, boss, I just arrived.

And then the driver starts to unload the truck... and discovers that part of the cargo... is... destroyed.

This could happen to anyone who delivers products and does not have any form of visibility in the supply chain.

But destroyed cargo is just one of many reasons to track the location or condition of your shipments.

There are also:

  • safety reasons (accidents, robberies),
  • optimisation reasons (to avoid traffic, to test & compare roads, to optimise fuel consumption),
  • testing reasons (to test drivers, freight forwarders, or other business partners).

To be honest, every other reason is equally good.

Communication and monitoring technologies, such as GPS, RFID, Bluetooth etc., fortify the location tracking devices and provide information on:

  • current or past shipment location,
  • current or past shipment condition,
  • current or past events, e.g., shocks or temperature fluctuations when on the road.

Having these pieces of information, you can improve visibility (by real-time tracking), make business decisions and eliminate or reduce inefficiencies. At least in theory.

iot-supply-chain-inefficiency

 

But how is it in reality?

As we said earlier, we put the statement of “location tracking devices improve the visibility in the supply chain to tests. And here is the first one.

 

IoT in supply chain - test #1: Location logs

How precise location logging do you need?

Answering this question will bring the answer to the big question about visibility.

Do you need to know a parcel’s location with 1-meter accuracy, or do you just need an approximate location within some radius around a given point?

For location logging test, we sent packages with DPD and FedEx companies.

Take a look at the maps below. From each of the lines, you can draw some general conclusions. And knowing the technologies of the tracking devices, you can be even sure about these conclusions 😉

map-1-Long-distance-tests-of-KIZY-tracking-TrustedGlobal-trackingLong-distance map #1: Kizy and TrustedGlobal paths

map-2-long-distance-tests-of-CellocatorNanoLong-distance map #2: Cellocator Nano
Data from the device were retrieved and displayed in a custom-made view.

What did we discover?

  • Location tracking devices showed us that the route taken from Katowice to Gdansk by DPD was different from the route back taken by FedEx.
  • However, routes were not different between shipment rounds - so it seems that courier companies have their own routines.
  • TrustedGlobal’s unit seems to represent the real route in the best way, as it is equipped both with GPS and GSM modules.
  • However, even though Kizy trackers leverage mostly on cellular triangulation, their routes are not so different.
  • Moreover, their logging interval was less frequent than TG7.

Tracking is very similar between the devices with just minor differences, which could be caused by the various placement of parcels and quality of GPS and GSM connections.

Now, let us take a look at Cellocator Nano.

Again, what did we discover?

  • Cellotrack Nano was supposed to log location every hour, but we got far fewer logs than expected, and they were less precise. If you need just a very general route overview - such data can be enough. But if you need precise and constant visibility, you should use another vendor.

Maps are an excellent knowledge source. But!

Tracing can be more exciting with more detailed information.

real-time-data-tracking-meme

 

IoT in supply chain - test #2: IoT platforms and information you can get out of them

Software platforms of tested devices can be used differently and can provide various information about tracked objects.

What do we mean?

  • You can easily view waypoints where the device was probably idle (see Kizy’s map)
  • A map can display an overview of the route, capturing locations (see TrustedGlobal’s map where orange dots represent capturing)
  • You can recognise where the courier’s distribution centres are (see TrustedGlobal’s map with clusters of points)
  • You can view detailed information on what caused the event to be logged, when it was logged and how accurate is the location (see TrustedGlobal’s map with the notification on the event)
  • You can extract location capture points in the form of raw data from the tracking device, and display them in your own software

iot-platform-by-Kizy-idle-statusesKizy’s platform showing the duration of the idle statuses

iot-platform-by-TrustedGlobal-location-capture-pointsTrustedGlobal’s platform showing the location capture points

iot-platform-by-TrustedGlobal-event-shockTrustedGlobal’s platform showing the event of the parcel being shocked

How cool, right?

 

IoT in supply chain - test #3 How to make alerts useful? Tips & tricks from the dev team

Another great part of using tracking devices in logistics is receiving an alert when something with your cargo is wrong. And by wrong, we mean that it is being stolen, or is in danger of destruction or partial destruction.

This is the area where IoT reveals its visibility possibilities.

 

Tip #1: Set a notification so that you can respond quickly

This may seem obvious, but in order to use alerts, they need to be visible where it is most convenient for you.

Notifications and alarms can be either viewed in portals or sent to your e-mail address or phone with an SMS or push notification. You can even set up your own HTTP endpoint to be called in case of a specified event.

Creating alarm rules might be limited by software platforms, though.

In such a case, you can always approach us to build a custom solution that will help you interpret the device's data in any way you can imagine.

email-alert-from-iot-platformE-mail notification from IoT platform

 

Tip#2: Not every alert is important

Pick only these notifications that matter to you.

Otherwise, you will go crazy.

Location tracking devices give you a variety of alarms to be set. The devices we tested are capable to notify you about:

  • Devices' battery levels
  • Theft detection (based on detecting light level)
  • Entering or leaving zone/area (the device is inside, the device is outside, bounds are crossed)
  • Distance travelled
  • Departures and arrivals
  • No/lost communication with the device
  • Special conditions (e.g., humidity is above 70%, shocks repeat, temperature is above 50°C, a car stopped...)
  • A vehicle is speeding
  • Being outside the temperature range, etc.

But for sure, the market offers many different alerting options.

iot-location-tracking-device-alerts-optionsAlerts in TrustedGlobal’s device

 

Tip #3: Give your driver the right to... panic

Some of the devices have a Panic button to report a disturbing or life-threatening situation. An example here is CelloTrack Nano.

If you equip your drivers with a tracker that has a Panic button, you give your people and your business more security.

If your company is transporting valuable goods or driving on unsafe routes, this option is for you.

 

How to make a tracking device more compatible with your needs?

Location tracking devices are not 100% problem-solvers.

But with custom development, you can extend devices’ possibilities and gather more important data.

One such examples could be a detailed temperature monitoring.

real-time-data-updates-about-tempertature-fluctuations-from-kizy-trackingTemperature fluctuations shown in Kizy’s platform

 

Kizy’s portal displays a user-friendly chart with the temperature registered during the shipment. You can see typical amplitudes between day and night temperatures and stable readings by the end, after the parcel reached the destination.

Hovering over a point shows reading time and exact value with a precision of 0.01°C.

But, if you want to track temperature fluctuations in details, you need to have something more than just a default table provided by the vendor.

With an extra dashboard or tool for data visualisation you can, e.g., link this data with the exact location of the vehicle and analyse the road to optimise it in the future.

All the extras are, of course, done by custom development services.

Okay, but here is another thing you ought to know when it comes to tracking and tracing shipments, assets or cargo.

 

Interesting fact: factors that limit trackers’ activity

In some cases, tracking devices might be restricted by your carrier.

Depending on the transportation mode, countries your goods are shipped to or freight forwarder’s internal policies, there might be various rules affecting trackers attached to your consignment.

It is so because of two things:

  • lithium batteries,
  • and transmission of GPS/GSM signal.

Air shipment is especially affected when it comes to transporting electronic devices equipped with lithium batteries.

Additionally, devices transmitting GPS and/or GSM signal must be approved by an airline if you want to attach them to your package. Unapproved devices must be turned off or put into a flight mode.

Otherwise, they can be rejected from transportation.

real-time-data-tracking-limitations-meme

What to do. Tough life.

 

Playground. Software platforms of IoT location tracking devices

The most attractive parts of tracking devices are their software platforms. Each vendor provides access to a platform or/and mobile app. A company using a device can learn on the platform about roads in real-time and in historical views, the environment of the cargo etc.

What does it look like?

To track units, you have to start a new mission.

You create one by providing details, such as mission name, description, teams, the ID of the tracker, etc.

Take a look at some mission lists on Kizy’s and Logmore’s platforms.

mission-list-on-iot-platform-kizyIoT platform: Kizy

mission-list-on-iot-platform-logmoreIoT platform: Logmore

By choosing the mission, you get all the details of it: maps with locations, scans, alert logs, measurements etc.

With platforms you can:

  • assign drivers to devices,
  • check reporting accidents,
  • review driver’s behaviour,
  • define routes and tasks
  • and much more.

Of course, it is a general description. To see each platform in atomic detail, just download Independent tests of location tracking devices report, where we described it.

 

By using the platform, you can have control over your logistics

You can use information stored in platforms by analysing details of a mission and looking for ways to improve your performance.

For instance, you can:

  • spot bottlenecks by analysing stops along the way to the destination point (in a warehouse, on the particular road),
  • eliminate roads dangerous to the cargo by analysing shocks measurements,
  • optimise team's management by analysing comments of missions,
  • gain competitive advantage by assuring your clients that you pick only safe roads,
  • or even review your shipment strategy.

But there is more.

Look at this great feature from Lightbug’s platform.

iot-platform-lightbug-play-pause-mapIoT platform: Lightbug

 

A location history tab allows selecting a date range to display logged location data from that period. By default, points are grouped into trips by the platform’s algorithm, so you can easily determine motion and idle duration.

Points on the interactive map can be selected to show detailed information like speed, course direction, time and location. Segments can be browsed on the left sidebar to check the details of an individual segment or point.

The bottom playback controls allow tracking historical journeys in real-time as if they would have been happening right now.

The map display can be configured and adjusted to your needs.

With the set of available options, you can decide to

  • hide short journeys,
  • show only stops,
  • force algorithm to try to detect invalid points and hide them from being displayed,
  • group points into trips or display them separately or average points when your device is stationary and reports multiple similar positions.

 

More options

Additionally, it is possible to display a route report for a specified time period and configure various alerts which can be e-mailed, pushed to the mobile app or sent to a given HTTP endpoint.

Lightbug provides a second software platform with a bit more advanced functionalities and configuration options.

The user can select from many available reports, such as a status report, route report, trip report, zone reports or even speeding reports.

IoT-platform-Lightbug-reports-dashboardIoT platform: Lightbug reports

Pretty much all data can be exported to .csv format.

Using the portal, you can also put your device in a flight mode for a selected period of time or turn it off. Turning it back on is possible only with physical access to the device.

But enough about one vendor.

To summarise, if you simply want to have real-time insight into your shipment process, out-of-the-box features of software platforms may meet your needs.

They offer a user-friendly way to track current location and other data related to your goods' journey.

BUT, you can achieve more with custom development.

custom-iot-platform-meme

 

Out-of-the-box vs custom solutions

As DHL sang in 1991: There ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough.

If ready-to-go features offered by software platforms are not sufficient for your business, you can decide to build a custom solution on top of them.

Tracker's vendors supplement their solutions with APIs which can be used to integrate their systems with external ones. Such an external system could be a custom application, well-tailored to your needs and requirements.

 

Integration with external data sources

The use of custom solution gives the freedom of integration with external data sources. You can complement your trackers' data with:

  • flight information,
  • marine traffic,
  • weather data
  • and much more.

With flight or marine tracking system, you can maintain sight of your shipment even if it is transported via air or sea, in the conditions when GPS and GSM connections are unlikely to be available.

With weather data, you can predict unexpected delays if you detect harsh conditions before or in the early stage of your shipment.

 

Predictive analytics

With custom access to all data, you can incorporate sophisticated solutions like

  • data mining,
  • statistics,
  • modelling
  • or machine learning
  • to analyse current and historical information to make predictions about future and unknown events that may occur.

This gives you a chance to identify risks and opportunities regarding your shipment process. It may guide you in decision-making by previewing how some changes may affect the business or what steps you need to take to improve the current process.

predictive-analytics-meme

 

Processes automation

Even an optimal process can still be improved.

With a custom solution, you can automate almost any element of the process.

It will not only speed up the workflow, but also let you save some money and make sure that everything is done by the book.

 

Custom alerts

Even though software platforms have built-in alerting mechanisms, some required alert conditions may not be supported.

In such a case, a custom solution gives you flexibility in defining any kind of alerting rules. You can interpret the data in any way you need.

Additionally, options for delivering notification are not limited and can be easily adjusted to your requirements.

 

Location tracking devices + API

Sometimes you might want to either integrate tracking solution with an existing system or build a completely new solution based on the data captured by devices. These scenarios can be accomplished by using the vendor's API (application programming interface).

Implementations of the APIs may vary and use different integration patterns.

  • They can be based on the push actions to notify a recipient about new data measured by the sensors. Such a mechanism can be configured either on the recipient's side or the vendor's side by setting up a subscription for the trackers' data.
    Configuration requires providing an endpoint where the data should be sent. It's worth considering additional security measures, e.g., by setting up headers with unique tokens, to avoid abusing the endpoint by malicious software.
  • In contrast to the push mechanism, the data can be accessed on-demand with pull commands.
    An API might expose certain endpoints to provide desired data, either all at once or a subset if it enables data querying.
    • Sometimes, pull pattern might be the only one available in an API; in such a case getting data in a real-time might require implementing some polling operations to ask the API for the desired information on a regular basis. Such "polling" endpoints require an authorisation, e.g., by providing access token or user credentials in the request.
    • Moreover, some vendors might protect their API with requests limits, i.e., there could be a limit on the number of requests that are processed by a given endpoint. It is necessary to adjust the polling interval to comply with the limits.

 

Lessons learned from location tracking devices tests

What level of visibility will one achieve using IoT location tracking devices? Basic and partial. However, it is sufficient to control and optimise transport routes and transport conditions.

IoT is worth investing the time and money when you want to:

  • minimise accidents or thefts,
  • avoid traffic,
  • test and compare roads,
  • optimise fuel consumption,
  • test drivers, freight forwarders, or other business partners.

But with the help of experienced developers (Skyrise.tech is at your service), you can increase the level of visibility in your supply chain by adding custom features to the existing solution or by building your own tracking solution, utilising IoT devices.

It is worth to customise devices’ features in order to:

  • set individual alerts,
  • process data,
  • automate manual processes,
  • incorporate data mining, statistics, modelling or machine learning,
  • or integrate with external data sources.