How Real Wireless Power Will Transform the Supply Chain

Aug. 17, 2021

Supply chain managers who can precisely monitor product location can set themselves apart by adding value and subtracting costs.
 

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is already transforming supply chains, from asset tracking to inventory management to warehouse and fleet operations. There are more than 10 billion IoT devices operating today, and in the next decade, experts project an additional 15 billion devices will come online. IoT devices have the potential to tell supply chain managers where assets are, keep employees safer onsite and yield valuable data that can be used to eliminate logistics bottlenecks and ensure product quality.

But to date, the limitations of wired and conventional/ disposable battery-powered solutions have made the deployment of IoT challenging. It has been dramatically slow in adoption of intermodal tracking. When products leave the manufacturing site, there’s often no visibility into location until products are received inside a distribution center. Technologies such as wireless power will transform the supply chain by closing that gap, and giving supply chain managers more insight into the conditions the product encounters along the way that may affect quality or safety.

Wired power and conventional batteries won’t allow IoT to reach full potential


Currently, most IoT devices in the supply chain are powered by electricity delivered via wire or batteries that have to be changed or charged up using traditional cords, disposable batteries or charging pads. Delivering electricity to sensors through conventional wiring tethers devices, which limits where and how they can be deployed, making their use impractical for supply chain applications that involve moving products.

Disposable batteries don’t tether devices, but they are expensive to deploy at scale, and their manufacture has many negative environmental impacts, plus they can leak toxins and corrosive materials if not properly recycled. It’s also expensive and inefficient for workers to replace batteries at points along the supply chain. Labor costs are an issue with rechargeable batteries too; employees have to place them on wired charging pads, which is impractical when products are in transit.

Even with these power-related limitations, IoT has changed how supply chain managers keep track of goods. Supply chain managers currently use sensors to monitor products in the cold chain and keep track of assets in warehouses. But, real wireless power is poised to have an even more transformative effect, making intermodal asset tracking a reality.  

Innovations in truck trailer tracking point to wirelessly powered future

There’s one recent innovation that illustrates how real wireless power can be a gamechanger. Tracking truck trailers at giant distribution centers has long been a significant challenge. Distribution centers that serve huge retailers or logistics companies can occupy several square miles and receive hundreds of trucks per day, making it hard to precisely track dropped trailers in rows of nearly identical containers.

When trailers are parked on a vast distribution center lot, they are frequently in the wrong spot or a drive may have parked it while the loading bay is full. This sets up a situation where associates have to locate them by walking through the lot, which not only takes up employees’ valuable time but can also pose a safety risk in a yard with moving vehicles. Tracking devices have always been a desired solution for this problem, but keeping trailer trackers charged, while multiple GPS pings drain their batteries has been a show stopper to date.

This is where wireless power technology can help. In a recent pilot program, a distribution center deployed asset trackers that are recharged wirelessly within a charging enclosure located at the truck gate. The magnetic trackers are deployed by associates checking in incoming trucks. The wirelessly powered tracker is then removed from trailers leaving the facility and placed back in a single charging enclosure — no precise placement on a pad required, nor multiple charging cords taking up space.

For trackers that will be deployed in a facility where trailers remain stationary for long periods, a battery that is equipped with an accelerometer and “sleeps” until it detects motion and starts tracking works best. For situations where trailers constantly move, it makes sense to set a tracker to ping at intervals (every 30 minutes, for example) to avoid draining the battery with constant pinging.  The tracker can be deployed with a web dashboard showing the location of each trailer, or integrated into the distribution center yard management system (YMS) to seamlessly provide real time location data.

In both cases, wirelessly charged trackers enable associates to easily find trailers and eliminates the risks to employees posed by walking through the lot in search of misplaced trailers. A wireless charging enclosure also eliminates the risks posed by extension cords and time inefficiencies involved in maintaining multiple charging stations and placing devices on pads.  

Real wireless power equals real world results

In the trailer tracker pilot program using wireless power technology, the company was able to accurately locate trailers 100% of the time at a busy yard. The company determined that the wirelessly powered trackers and charging enclosure could save a minimum of 1,400 hours in labor costs per year at that distribution center by eliminating the need to send workers out on foot to find trailers.  It also saves an enormous amount of time to load and unload critical product, driving further efficiencies in the distribution center.

The distribution center also projected that trackers charged via real wireless power could potentially help them save hundreds of thousands per year by making sure incoming trucks received the correct trailer location every time, which would eliminate the need to re-park and disconnect from trailers that were hitched in error due to faulty location data.

Extrapolated out across multiple distribution centers, a real wireless power trailer tracking application has the potential to save retail chains and logistics companies millions each year. And, that’s just the beginning because distribution centers are one stop along the supply chain. The applications of wireless power technology go far beyond that stop.

Wirelessly powered sensors attached to pallets and other types of containers can track product location during intermodal transit. They can monitor the temperature of perishable goods as products like produce and dairy move through the supply chain. Sensors that can detect acceleration can identify falls and alert supply chain managers to potential product damage and much more.

Wireless power technology gets real world results. And, in a world where the demand for logistics services is growing beyond current capacity, supply chain managers who can precisely monitor product location can set themselves apart by adding value and subtracting costs. In this way, real wireless power is already transforming the supply chain.        

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