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Smart Sensors: The Digital Backbone of Today’s Connected Solutions

2/11/2021

By Forrest Hobbs

IoT is no longer a mere buzzword; it’s here to stay and is fueling digital transformations, from tracking freight containers in real time to leveraging connected sensors to improve factory performance. It’s estimated that the growth of IoT through connected devices across the globe will increase from 7.6 billion to a whopping 24.1 billion by 2030 (according to a Transforma Insights report in May, 2020).

One of the major challenges for IoT-enabled products such as smart sensors is getting them to interact and communicate with other devices and software platforms. Obviously, it’s impossible to create standards for all hardware devices so that they can seamlessly communicate with each other; there are new, more innovative IoT hardware products coming on the market every month.

Image credit: https://xkcd.com/927/

Hardware neutrality should be the core principle of your IoT strategy.  If you’re looking to increase visibility into your global supply chain by leveraging a supply chain visibility platform, make sure that it was developed from the ground up to onboard any hardware device, regardless of brand or processor, making connectivity seamless. Such a platform should work with what you already have, so you can leverage previous investments instead of having to “rip and replace” your existing legacy architecture.

In this first blog post in our series about smart sensors, we highlight the rapid adoption of smart sensors in today’s supply chains and explain how a vendor-neutral platform strategy will help you capitalize on the constantly evolving menu of options that will be brought to market over the next year. In future blog posts in this series about smart sensors, we’ll talk about how to evaluate a hardware vendor. We’ll include a list of questions you should ask yourself internally, a list of key questions to ask sensor manufacturers, and a matrix that clearly identifies the capabilities of each individual sensor manufacturer.

Smart Sensors: The Digital Backbone of Today’s Connected Solutions

Sensors have come a long way since the early days of first-generation devices such as MEMS sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes and biosensors. The evolution of sensors led to the emergence of smart objects that are an integral part of the IoT. Here’s a look at some of the technology drivers for IoT:

Smart sensors are one of the most widely adopted technologies that have a direct impact on supply chains, as they provide feedback on a physical process or product in a predictable, consistent, and measurable way. Clearly, the need for analytics and predictive data is driving the use of sensor technology and usage. Fortunately, recent advancements in sensor technologies have increased performance and reduced production costs, eliminating barriers to smart sensor adoption. Analytical tools have also improved, making it easier to extract insights from IoT data.

Integrating smart sensors into your supply chain increases the automated collection and processing of data, and helps you understand the real-time and future state of your complex, interdependent supply chains, which can in turn help improve performance, reliability, innovation, and demand planning.

Now is the time for companies to consider how to better sensor-enable their supply chains from end to end. Connecting devices with smart sensors can provide you with real-time, data-driven insights into all aspects of the supply chain, increasing efficiencies, reducing costs, and introducing new revenue opportunities. Here’s how to get started:

Step 1: To adequately assess the IoT hardware ecosystem, spend more time focused on understanding business outcomes, value and TCO/ROI.

We recommend that you begin by defining your overall goals: what do you hope to accomplish by connecting the unconnected? In general, IoT data can provide organizations with faster insights, which can drive greater efficiencies, improved customer engagement, reduced total cost of ownership, and increased ROI. Identify the specific outcomes you want to achieve with your IoT project. From there, you can start identifying performance requirements, the hardware and software you need to meet those requirements, and the component specifications needed for your particular operating environment and application(s).

Step 2: Find an Advisor in the Sensor Hardware Space That Doesn’t Have Skin in the Game

One of the challenges facing companies who are looking to leverage smart sensors in their supply chains is that there are a vast number of sensor technology applications that can accomplish different things at different points in their supply chains. By partnering with a device-agnostic player, organizations can avoid the painful misstep of investing in a monolithic solution that addresses the current state at the expense of very foreseeable future needs. Most companies have real-life reference points to that in our existing architecture today and having to consider expensive, time-consuming platform re-architectures.

Step 3: Choose a Future-Proof Platform That is Sensor-Agnostic

Our roots impact our past, present and future. Our company was rooted in sensors, beginning with the Cloudleaf Sensor Fabric™, an intelligent network made up of IoT sensors and gateways. The co-founders of Cloudleaf have strong backgrounds in sensor technologies and know that the sensor landscape is evolving rapidly to provide more options and specialization: smaller, better, cheaper. No one company could possibly provide all the sensors for customers’ needs, and there are new and highly specialized sensors being developed all the time to address the unique needs of specific industries. Because of this, we evolved to become a digital visibility platform company and totally agnostic to sensor type or brand. To provide organizations with a turnkey supply chain visibility product, we have developed strong partnerships with leading IoT sensor providers, giving our customers a more holistic and complete supply chain visibility solution with speed and interoperability at the core. It has also given Cloudleaf a very broad view of the sensor landscape and the tradeoffs of each.  Here’s a look at some of the sensor solutions that we work with:

sensors by type and use case

At Cloudleaf, we’ve taken our platform to the next level by enabling visibility driven by real-time data at the product level, not just the shipment level. Our platform architecture ingests and harmonizes data from a multitude of sources, including edge sensors and internal and external platforms and data sources (think ERP, TMS, WMS, Flight, Carrier, Weather, etc) to give you the right data that leads to actionable insights.

Cloudleaf Sensor Fabric Dashboard - Edit Organization/Sensor

We understand the critical importance of choosing the right sensor for your supply chain, so think of us as “Switzerland” in terms of the multitude of smart sensor manufacturers we work with. We designed our solution from the ground up so that it can rapidly onboard and interoperate with both existing and future sensors, so you can easily leverage previous investments while transforming your supply chain.

Our robust and flexible Digital Visibility Platform is also SaaS Cloud-based and IT light, so you don’t need to rip and replace your existing infrastructure and time to value is measured in days and weeks, not months and years.

We look forward to helping you effectively understand and weigh your options in this constantly changing hardware market, so that you can choose the right sensor solution for your supply chain.

Read the next article in Cloudleaf’s sensor series: 10 Important Factors to Consider When Selecting a New Sensor or IoT Device

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