ProMat 2015: How Big Data Will Make Supply Chains More Efficient

There are data management specialists available who can help take advantage of the growing uses of Internet-enabled data

Longtime ProMat attendees are noticing more exhibitors offering data management services. That’s because data management has become a more important part of the supply chain as the Internet continues to evolve and give supply chain managers more tools to increase efficiency. This observation was made during a presentation on Thursday, March 26, the last day of the ProMat show at Chicago’s McCormick Place South, titled, “How the Internet of Things Will Reshape Facility Optimization.” Melinda Laake, manager of enterprise solutions, and John Rosenberger, manager of iWarehouse Gateway and global telematics at The Raymond Corp., gave the presentation.

As complex as the Internet has become, Laake said that there are four elements needed to utilize data over the Internet:

  1. An identity for whatever holds data, be it a machine, a report or a person.
  2. A way for the entity to connect to the Internet.
  3. The entity’s ability to be sensed.
  4. The ability to interpret the information being sent, be it by a mobile device, a PC or something else.

Laake offered the example of Nike and Apple software. Nike shoes have sensors that collect data and sends it to a mobile device. The sensors can send information to insurance companies that will use it to determine a person’s health insurance rates.

Placing this scenario on the context of the supply chain, Laake said telematics is allowing supply chain decision makers to gauge activity within material handling equipment, such as speed and distance traveled. “We can also connect to other software solutions,” she said.

Data from material handling equipment can be sent to a labor management system, for example.

Supply chain managers will be able to determine how many activities are needed to complete a warehouse task.

Laake said data sent over the Internet will allow supply chain managers to predict when a retail outlet is going to run out of stock and replenish the stock before it runs out.

She observed that Target’s recent decision to pull out of Canada was partly based on its inability to keep shelves stocked.

Rosenberger followed up with a prediction that sensors will continue to become more economical and provide more information to improve supply chain efficiencies. He said it is presently not cost justifiable to put sensors on pallet jacks, for instance, but this will change.

Supply chain decision makers will know, for instance, how long it takes a driver to get to a site and to do all the tasks they need to do when they get there.

Utilization and activity reports will provide a more complete view of the supply chain once there is more data, Rosenberger said.

“How much is that driver walking instead of driving?” he asked. Data from vehicle sensors will allow a supply chain manager to know if the driver should be driving instead of walking certain distances.

Current warehouse management software allows companies to collect data, analyze it and present reports for making decisions. In the new era of “big data,” Rosenberger said decision makers will also be able to verify data collected, correlate more data sources, and better predict what will happen based on the data.

“With a richer data set, I can predict more accurately what’s going to happen,” he said.

Supply chain decision makers will also be able to change delivery routes based on changing weather conditions.

All the new capabilities can be challenging to supply chain managers, Rosenberger said, but this  is why there are more services cropping up to help them use the data. “There are people that can absolutely help you get involved in this,” he said, referencing the numerous data services exhibiting at ProMat.

By 2020, an estimated 26 billion devices will be “interconnected,” Rosenberger said.

As new data sources become possible, some decision makers are concerned about how secure the data will be. Rosenberger said the Internet cloud will improve data security. “Anything that’s going out the cloud, you already have protection for,” he said.

The leaders in Internet-based information gathering currently include GE Intelligent Platforms, IBM Data & Analytics, John Deere and Caterpillar, he noted.