May 17, 2020

The next leg of the journey

Electronic tracking
Freddie Pierce
3 min
Sense Aware 2
By Ella Copeland New sensor technology offers visibility options which are poles apart from traditional tracking methods, reaching above and beyond sim...

By Ella Copeland

New sensor technology offers visibility options which are poles apart from traditional tracking methods, reaching above and beyond simple location tracking to provide near real-time information on a range of the variable factors for sensitive shipments.

With today’s technology, companies are able to monitor the temperature, barometric pressure, light exposure, humidity and location of sensitive shipments in near real-time, thanks to devices such as FedEx’s SenseAware.

Combining a small multi-sensor device which is placed in shipments with an innovative online application, the new FedEx SenseAware can provide customers with near real-time data which logs manual checks and charts atmospheric changes, even while a shipment is in the air.

Acting not only as a tracking function but also as an inventory management and security device, new sensor based logistics are set to become a central supply chain management function for sensitive shipments, according to Chris Swearingen, Marketing Manager for SenseAware, who believes we are still only part-way to utilising the full capabilities of this technology.

“SenseAware gives customers the power to monitor key factors such as environmental conditions, location and even whether or not a package has been opened. This near real-time flow of data eliminates the need for an RFID scanner or data logger, as customers (and other business parties to which the customer has granted permission) can log in to the SenseAware application to monitor journeys, and even customise triggers, while the package is in transit,” explained Swearingen.

Following a development phase spanning several years, the FedEx innovation team has utilised a number of technological breakthroughs in the world of sensor-based logistics (SBL), which give customers the power to react to unexpected situations and improve supply chain efficiency.

Using specially developed technology to control the device’s radio during takeoff and landing, the SenseAware is able to log and store information during a flight, and Swearingen believes that this new technology will continue to evolve, enabling new supply chain models which will dramatically increase efficiency.

“In the near future, customers will be able to dissect data even further, using it to forecast information about what time of year, or even what time of day, is best to ship their package based on data previously collected through sensor-enabled devices,” he said.

The SenseAware’s data collecting capabilities allow procurement teams to receive alerts when shipment contents have gone outside a specified range, or have entered or exited the boundary of a preset geographic area. It also brings to light new information on routes, transfer points, potential bottlenecks and more.

The data collection options also enable procurement teams to test assumptions about packaging, storage and transportation methods to ensure they are operating efficiently. This data can also enable more collaboration and sharing between supply chain partnerships, making information easier to access and providing extra insight into security and quality KPIs.

According to Swearingen, this is only the start of SBL’s potential, as logistics companies continue to develop solutions to improve track and trace capabilities.

“As Sensor Based Logistics (SBL) technology evolves, electronic tracking will continue to evolve along with it. In the case of SenseAware, it provides access to near real-time information that enables new supply chain models that have the potential to dramatically increase supply chain efficiency. In the near future, customers will be able to dissect data even further, using it to forecast information about what time of year, or even what time of day, is best to ship their package based on data previously collected through sensor-enabled devices,” he said.

This development is something that FedEx plan to be at the centre of, as the company’s innovation team continues to invest time and resources into developing products and services to complement the SenseAware device.

“Sensor Based Logistics (SBL) will continue to be a game-changer when it comes to increasing the efficiency of supply chain operations, and will continue to allow devices such as SenseAware to empower organisations to gain control over their supply chains, manage operations and make changes that improve productivity and efficiency,” Swearingen concluded. 

Share article

Jun 11, 2021

NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience

6 min
Joey Dean, Managing Director of healthcare consulting at NTT DATA Services, shares remodelling strategies for more resilient supply chains

Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.

The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.

A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach

“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.

“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.

But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?

“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.

Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes

So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry

“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality. 

“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”

Evolving Procurement Models 

From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view. 

“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.

“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”

“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”

But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?

“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.

The Challenges

These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.

On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.

Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”

He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”

As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”


Share article