Supply Chain Management / IIoT / Warehouse Management / Smart Manufacturing

High-tech supply chain solutions

From wearables to services, Sheila Kennedy says new tools are enabling a better grip on supply chain management.

By Sheila Kennedy, CMRP, contributing editor

The manufacturing supply chain is increasingly benefiting from the industrial internet of things (IIoT). High-tech connected devices and systems, advanced data management platforms, and integrated MRO service offerings are improving supply-chain processes and outcomes from end to end.

Empowering technologies

Using wearables for high-volume tasks such as picking, sorting, put-away, and packing can improve worker productivity and safety. The 8680i Wearable Mini Mobile Computer from Honeywell, worn on two fingers or attached to a glove, combines a mobile computer and scanner into a single device with an integrated user interface and direct communication to network workflows via Wi-Fi.

“Many companies are turning to wearable technology for more-complex workflows, such as advanced prepacking and stocking, with a push toward picking and fulfilling ecommerce orders,” observes Stan Zywicki, general manager of printing and scanning at Honeywell. “By using a wearable rather than a handheld device, we have seen users save approximately five seconds per transaction,” he says.

Augmented-reality offerings facilitate information-sharing that takes advantage of natural forms of movement and interaction such as head motion, gestures, voice, and touch. The new Augmented Reality Management Platform (ARMP) from Atheer helps to reduce downtime and improve productivity and safety with capabilities such as “see what I see” video calling, and sending instructions to a worker’s smartglasses, smartphones, or tablets.

ARMP’s group calling allows multiple experts from the supply chain to be on a single video call, ensuring that maintenance engineers have the quickest possible access to the people and resources that can help resolve the issues they face, says Amar Dhaliwal, chief operating officer at Atheer. “All the people on that call will be able to see live video from the caller’s smartglasses and provide their own feedback and annotations to what they see,” Dhaliwal says.

End-of-line packing robots, high-speed pick-and-place robots, collaborative robots, and mobile robots harness advancements in machine vision and solve material movement challenges, says Jason Tenorio, senior engineering consultant at Bastian Solutions. Bastian Solutions is an integrator of material handling systems such as mobile robots, automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), automated guided vehicles (AGV), goods-to-person technology, and conveyors.

Manufacturers are eager to automate materials movement because they are “challenged by an increasingly tight labor environment, heightened time pressures, (a need for) continuous quality improvement, and space challenges related to continued growth within facilities that are at or near capacity,” adds Tenorio.

Data optimization platforms

Synchronizing orders, suppliers, inventories, and shipments across global enterprises is simplified with file transfer and integration software. HULFT’s data logistics platform links a factory’s manufacturing execution system (MES) with its warehouse management and historian solutions so that all parts in the process are fully visible – from product manufacturing to distribution. It is “designed to allow companies to securely move, transfer, transform, and automate their data flow requirements,” says Dave Corbin, product manager at HULFT.

Using HULFT’s platform, a Japanese manufacturing and machinery company reduced data re-entry and eliminated corrections and wrong shipments caused by incorrect entries. Personnel who had been entering order information were assigned to other, more productive work, HULFT reports.

A new sensor data platform from Cloudleaf uses a mesh of IoT sensors, edge intelligence, and predictive cloud applications to enable continuous tracking and monitoring of assets such as raw materials, parts, equipment, tools, pallets, and shipping containers. Cloudleaf’s Sensor Fabric intelligent sensor network “generates a unique digital fingerprint with location and contextual metadata” for the tracked assets, including temperature and other monitored conditions, according to the company.

The visibility provided by Sensor Fabric allows users to improve asset tracking and management, product quality, safety, productivity, regulatory compliance, and other performance objectives. The edge solution and its machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) cloud engines are designed so that “the longer they’re deployed, the smarter they get.”

Integrated services

MRO supply-chain management service providers can let manufacturers place greater focus on their core competencies, those who provide these services say. Synovos, for example, touts that it has one goal: to have the proper materials in place at the right time for its customers. The company is agnostic to the supply chain; it is not a distributor.

Synovos’ integrated services address the entire supply chain, from strategic sourcing to storeroom operations, data standardization, and asset services. The company’s proprietary technology, Synovos Sync, is built on the Microsoft Dynamics platform, says David Juul, senior VP of operations at Synovos. “That combination allows us to leverage spend, lower carrying costs, and contribute to improved maintenance effectiveness and plant reliability,” Juul says.