Better decisions with data-driven software

The Internet of Things (IoT) is taking over industries – and logistics is no exception. As the number of IoT devices grows, so too does the volume of data generated. Hub and Network Booster from Siemens Logistics use artificial intelligence to analyze data from parcel operations in sorting centers. The resulting insights are especially valuable for optimizing parcel logistics.

 

The Internet of Things, or IoT: the term has taken on a life of its own and has become a symbol for all things future oriented. But what does IoT really mean? A simple definition is a networking of devices among themselves and externally with the internet. And as it turns out, the idea isn’t as novel as one might think.

One of the first things to be linked to the internet was a Coke machine. It was the early 1980s at Carnegie Mellon University, and – as the story goes – students at the computer sciences department were tired of taking long walks to the nearest vending machine only to find out that it was empty or that the drinks were still warm because the machine had only recently been refilled. The students decided to rig the Coke dispenser with sensors so they could check from a terminal from afar how full it was and how cold the drinks were. No more guesswork, no more disappointment.

Since then, billions of objects have been connected to the internet – from refrigerators and garage doors to security cameras and smart watches. How many devices exactly? The numbers vary from study to study, though the consensus seems to be that around 25 billion devices will be connected worldwide by the end of 2021. That’s an enormous increase from the 6.4 billion units that US research firm Gartner reported for 2016.

Connected industry

Fueling this expansion is wide access to connectivity, cloud computing, lower-priced sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. Of course, it isn’t just household devices and personal gadgets that are going online – industrial equipment is also being connected, thereby accelerating the next generation of industry. It’s being hailed Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT. IIot is already making a huge impact on manufacturing, transportation, building management and the energy sector – and of course, logistics.

It only makes sense that parcel companies are embracing IIoT and digitalization. Siemens Logistics pioneered data-supported processes when it started work on developing automatic address recognition in the 1970s. Today more than ever, data is helping get parcels as quickly and efficiently as possible from A to B.

 

Putting all data to use

In modern parcel operations, barcode and RFID readers, cameras and sensors are constantly generating data. When it is analyzed with AI-driven software, the results bring a new level of transparency on shipments, machines and the countless systems in a parcel system. Operators acting on this information can increase throughput, maximize asset use and lower operational costs. And who wouldn’t want that?

For parcel sorting hubs, Siemens Logistics offers its Hub Booster software. Operators can collectively view the entire process chain in a logistics hub and get recommendations for making decisions. For example, the software tells teams which chutes need to be unloaded next to avoid overruns. In another use case, vehicle-loading personnel receives information on which trucks to change at the highest priority to prevent loading capacity bottlenecks.

For operators of several hubs, Siemens Logistics offers Network Booster. The software identifies irregularities in a network by analyzing mass data on parcel movements. Like Hub Booster, Network Booster makes recommendations and thereby ensures the timeliest intervention possible. A prominent example is directives for stopping parcel recirculations between hubs. In addition, information on travel times and volumes processed at nodes can be easily called up in dashboards, where users can also find performance information for defined periods. Hence, network manager can accurately track trends, such as identifying typically higher volumes on certain days of the week, and adjust accordingly.

 

Benefits all around

When all the data produced in hubs and networks is collected and analyzed, parcel service providers benefit from greater visibility and increased efficiency. An example of what this means: with Network Booster, unnecessary sorting and transport costs associated with recirculations can be cut by some 80 percent. That’s good news for the bottom line – and proof that the investment in this AI-driven software is well worth it.

So whether it’s about transporting e-commerce purchases or inter-company logistics for just-in-time delivery of components, it is possible to get more done with the infrastructure on hand. Data eliminates guesswork because the status of hubs and hub networks is apparent in real time. And if that’s not enough, predictions can be made with a higher degree of certainty.

IoT and subsequently IIot have come a long way since the Coke machine stunt at Carnegie Mellon University. Though there is obviously more at stake with parcel logistics companies, the core ultimately remains: whether it’s about fetching soft drinks or forwarding billions of parcels a year, data collection and analysis help facilitate the best decisions.

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