In today’s industrial world, it’s very easy to generate masses of data – process data, sales data, customer data and so on. The advent of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) takes it to the next level – potentially every device in every factory right across your supply chain can generate data for you. Every second, from every device on every parameter being monitored – think about how much data that could potentially be.
So you’re generating all this data. And you think it might be somehow useful, so you want to access it. But to do that you need to raise a ticket with the IT team, you need to have the right permissions, you need somebody who understands the layout of the data so you can find what you need from among the clutter.
But this post isn’t really about the data that’s piling up and not being used. It’s about the people who are figuring out useful ways to use the data in actual applications, and who are finding ways of democratizing the use of data via reports and smart analytics. In my last blog “The Promise of the Industrial Internet of Things”, I talked about the business opportunities created by the IIoT, and this blog is an extension of that. The next industrial revolution is more likely to be won by the problem solvers – the people who are implementing ingeniously simple ways of doing useful things with data.
Improving the quality of milk via low cost data transmission
Now consider how complex the supply chain becomes when we count the number of farmers providing milk, the number of agents transporting milk, the number of trucks delivering milk to the dairy plant, and then the number of trucks distributing bottled milk to the supermarkets. At each stage, there is the potential for the milk to be spoiled due to factors like storage at the farm, transportation vehicles with poor cooling, bulk milk coolers in remote locations accesses via poor quality roads, poor quality milk not being discovered until it’s added to good milk and so on.
In order to reduce milk waste and maintain quality, variables like temperature, acidity, levels and so on, need to be measured at each point – including during transportation. This generates a massive amount of information. How do you put it to good use to make practical improvements to a highly sensitive supply chain?
Remember we are in a developing country, so in this case we didn’t consider the flashiest, leading edge technology, but rather what technical solution would best fit the local situation. In this case, the answer was Android mobile phones.
There are more mobile phones in the world today than people. They are the primary interface to the Internet for so many in the developing world. And that means that in our milk supply chain, every truck driver actually has an HMI right in their pocket. They are already carrying a device that can transmit data and that locates them on the delivery grid. I said before that it’s not about the technology, but, in this case, the solution is an innovation worth mentioning – making everything work via the ubiquitous mobile phone. Not only can it locate them, not only can it send data, it can also receive messages from a coordinator (if necessary, messages to turn around and dump the milk because it’s gone off).
A solution that combines the use of low cost Android devices with a sophisticated cloud interface in the dairy supply chain means you can track every batch of milk. You can track every bulk cooling device containing the milk. This information is fed into a very sophisticated tracking database which a dairy can tap into – they can literally just look at a map and see the location and condition of every truck; they can see any alarms that have occurred and make real-time decisions. And so the massive amount of data that’s being generated is now filtered in a way that can be immediately useful.
A business model improving the lives of truck drivers
One of the most interesting aspects of this is the innovation to the business model. Milk truck drivers can make payments on the tracking technology fitted to their vehicle based on successful deliveries in order to reduce the upfront purchase costs of their equipment. This counters the challenge in developing countries for upfront capex investment. By definition, the application tracks the location and use of the equipment, making a “per use” model easy to apply – you know where everything is, you know what’s happened, you have the data and can charge or pay accordingly.
This is where the IIoT stops becoming an abstract concept and starts being useful to solve problems – in this case, zero capex capacity for truck drivers in developing countries where better supply chain integrity is required, and better quality control of the final consumer product – the milk.
The extension of secure data services across the supply chain for industries with perishable items is limitless – think pharmaceuticals, in addition to our dairy example. It’s also applicable in places where there is large road infrastructure for transportation but where this infrastructure may be somewhat unreliable.
Read more about how the dairy supply chain and consumers in India are benefiting from remote monitoring here.