In one of our recent blogs, we talked about what IoT (Internet of Things) is and whether it’s the right time to adopt it. You can find that blog right here. However, since IoT in the warehouse is a fairly new concept/technology, warehouse managers, technology directors, and higher decision makers might find it somewhat difficult to plan and, of course, even more challenging implementing.
The primary reason for this is the overwhelming amount of moving parts, details, and infrastructure that is (seemingly) needed for successfully implementing this warehouse technology.
This blog provides basic knowledge about the essentials of industrial IoT (IIoT) that you will need for a successful deployment.
Here are 5 essentials of IIoT that you must consider:
The actual deployment of industrial internet of things (IIoT) lies in the successful deployment of censoring devices such as temperature, accelerometer, proximity, motion sensors, and actuators among others.
The first thing you must understand is what exactly you are trying to measure and/or detect (e.g., the acceleration of a forklift while in operation) and then consider factors such as IT infrastructure, systems, and implementation/maintenance costs.
The basis of IoT in a warehouse is sensors and actuators embedded into objects and/or devices. Some of the sensors and actuators that you might consider adopting include, but are not limited to:
RFID tags on parcels and pallets to efficiently & effectively track cargo within the warehouse
Barcode scanners with RFID capabilities to quickly find packages in crowded areas
Temperature and humidity sensors in cold storage facilities to track in real time temperature & humidity
Motion, speed, and proximity sensors and actuators in forklifts to prevent accidents
GPS, motion, and speed detectors embedded in wearable devices to detect operational inefficiencies
Apart from this, you must also consider other devices that nicely complement an IoT ecosystem. These are:
Wearable devices such as smart watches and glasses
It is the joint action of sensors and actuators that makes industrial IoT such a powerful technology across warehouses and distribution centers.
Not only can these sensors help streamline and direct the movement and operations, but they can also help you collect invaluable data that can later be used to detect inefficiencies (e.g. reducing walking time), increase productivity, and prevent accidents.
The power of the Internet of Things lies in its potential to be the “Internet of Everything” as Cisco terms it – meaning, its ability to interconnect devices, people, and objects. And for this to become a reality, IoT and all its components depend on a reliable network infrastructure.
To interconnect all the IoT endpoints (sensors and actuators), you need a well-designed (and implemented) wired and wireless network that reliably and securely transmits communications across the entire IoT ecosystem.
In the case of a wired infrastructure, it is highly recommended to use Cat6e cabling and gigabit connections (switches and routers with at least gigabit capabilities) to avoid network bottlenecks, latency, and/or packet loss.
For wireless connectivity, it is highly recommended to implement a wireless infrastructure that is equipped with wireless controllers (used to centralize the management of all wireless access points) that support authentication and encryption protocols such as MAC address authentication or X.509 certificates.
These authentication and encryption protocols will help you ensure that only approved devices are connected to your network (authentication) and that information is transmitted in a secured manner over the air (encryption).
Considering the amount of information to be collected within a warehouse IoT ecosystem, it is important to carefully consider the security side of the equation.
Why? Because failing to do so can result in the leak of not only sensitive customer information (e.g., high-value cargo and customer details) but also specific operational processes and procedures that provide your business with a competitive advantage.
So, to avoid this, it is extremely important that the following questions are carefully considered during the planning and deployment phases of a warehouse IoT implementation.
How will you control what devices (sensors, actuators, mobile devices, people, etc.) can connect and participate in the IoT ecosystem? - Authentication.
How is data going to be protected while in transit (moving between endpoints and the database)? - Data integrity.
What data repository (e.g., database) can guarantee that only the right people and systems have access to write and read data? - Authorization
Who will be responsible for monitoring the security of the IoT ecosystem and conducting system maintenance intended to address and correct system vulnerabilities?
No system is 100% secured. So, people and processes should be in place to protect the system and effectively respond in the case of a security incident. It is important to consider all these questions and proactively find the correct answers and solutions to them.
Security is one of the prime concerns that haunts the deployment of warehouse IoT. A study by Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, involving users of IoT reveals that
84% respondents reported that they have already experienced an IoT-related breach at least once.
4. IoT Platform
An IoT ecosystem is a complex organization of interconnected devices that spans across sensors, devices, software, equipment, security systems, servers, and databases – only to mention a few.
Considering a large number of components required to interact reliably and securely, most companies depend on what is known as and IoT platform to achieve this purpose.
An IoT platform is simply a middleware (mostly cloud based) used to interconnect all the pieces of the IoT ecosystem. Think of it as the glue that connects all the parts within the ecosystem and stores, processes, and analyzes all the generated data.
So, instead of developing your own IoT platform, it is highly recommended to leverage an established third-party IoT platform (cloud IoT) to manage all the components of your warehouse IoT.
Here are some of the most recognized IoT cloud vendors.
While the biggest names in IoT news right now are Azure, AWS (Amazon Web Service), IBM Watson, Google Cloud Platform, and Salesforce IoT, there are also several other smaller players that suit IIoT rather well.
Along with choosing a suitable platform for IoT in the warehouse, you will also need to look into IoT analytics capabilities.
IoT analytics means the application of data analytics tools and methods to analyze and make sense of large volumes of collected data – remember, sensory devices will be collecting data (status, events, etc.) in real time. Herein lies the power of IoT in warehouse and distribution center operations.
Data analytics holds a crucial place in the IoT scheme of things. Not only will it help you analyze large volumes of data generated by your IoT ecosystem, but it will also structure all the unstructured data to help you make sense of it.
Remember, every component within the ecosystem will generate large volumes of data, so organizing it is critical to make it meaningful and useful. Without proper organization of all the generated information, warehouse managers and other decision makers will not be able to understand it and take actions to drive efficiency within the warehouse.
Down the line, IoT data analytics is the very tool that will help you drive efficiency and profitability by understanding in detail operational inefficiencies and allowing you to implement effective solutions that will yield tangible operational efficiencies.
Creating a smart warehouse with IoT is no longer hype. This technology is already making inroads into many warehouses and distribution centers across the world. There is no doubt that IoT in warehouses is on its way to becoming a reality.
While this technology continues its natural evolution (watch here about when and how to adopt a technology), warehouse managers and other decision makers must start preparing and planning for budgeting, planning, and deploying IoT within their facilities.
As always, if there is anything else that you would like to know about the Internet of Things in warehouses or distribution centers, or if you need some tips on warehouse technology, do not hesitate to contact us or comment below.