Connectivity is increasing efficiency and effectiveness right across industry, improving manufacturing and streamlining logistics. For example, real-time tracking of assets through the supply chain can help reduce wastage and improve efficiency. Connected sensors can be used to check the status and location of trucks, containers, pallets, crates and even individual products. This kind of asset tracking can be used to optimise routes, minimise travelling time and prevent perishable items from being spoiled.
Today, about one third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted, according to Machina Research. In developed countries, a major problem is the significant temperature fluctuations in the cold chain (continuous refrigeration) that needs to be maintained from harvest to supermarket. Purfresh (a specialist supplier of cold chain solutions) has estimated that 20-30% of quality losses during shipping are due to temperature or atmosphere fluctuations in the perishable cold chain.
Monitoring which pallets of produce have suffered breaks in the cold chain can help the distributor minimise waste. Research has found that losses can be reduced substantially by ensuring that produce that has suffered temperature fluctuations, reducing its shelf-life, is delivered to the closest distribution centres. One study found that the use of shelf-life-based stock rotations reduced strawberry losses from about 35% to just over 20%, while losses of cooked ham were halved.
Low power wide area (LPWA) connectivity could make it cost-effective to monitor the supply chain for even relatively low value goods. Using 3GPP-standardised technologies, it is now viable for connected sensors to send data directly to a gateway or base station, without repeaters or other intermediary devices at the network’s edge. This means lower installation and servicing costs. Moreover, data collection can be more real-time and the whole process more proactive. The emergence of nationwide and international IoT networks based on 3GPP-standardised technologies, should allow shipped products to be tracked almost seamlessly from their source to their destination. Machina Research notes that these networks will allow diagnostic use cases to evolve into predicative use cases and prescriptive use cases, in which the distributor takes steps to prevent breaks in the cold chain.
In the US, AT&T is testing the use of LTE-M for a variety of industrial IoT use cases, partnering with CalAmp on connected vehicles and fleet & asset management, RM2 on smart pallets, Xirgo Technologies on container monitoring and asset tracking, and PepsiCo on smart beverage fountains. Its trials include smart shelving, that can support inventory management, as well as pallet tracking, container monitoring, asset tracking and fleet management. In some use cases, connected devices are transmitting data multiple times a day; in others, only once a day, sleeping most of the time. For some applications, the device may only come out of sleep mode once a threshold has been reached, such as when an oil gauge drops below a certain level. AT&T is also evaluating how many active simultaneous connections, and how many connections in sleep mode, LTE-M can support in a single cell. At the same time, AT&T is checking the compatibility of equipment from different vendors.
Connected sensors are being deployed in agricultural trials in Africa with mobile operator Orange, using EC-GSM-IoT technology. Farmers are able to deploy several connected sensors in a field to help determine when the best time to plant and harvest particular crops is.
In Norway, Telia Company developed a smart agriculture pilot with equipment maker 7Sense, employing connected sensors to enable farmers to monitor compost and irrigation systems via a responsive web portal. 7Sense is looking for NB-IoT to provide better coverage and battery life than is possible with other forms of connectivity, underpinned by the ease of use and the quality of service provided by the cellular network.