Flipping the Switch
Illustration by Sam Reimnitz
Think of all the steps your smartphone took before it arrived at your doorstep.
The original sketch went through rounds of prototyping before workers on the production floor pieced together parts from around the world into a finished product. That product was then shipped, probably by boat or plane, to a sorting facility and eventually delivered to your home—likely thousands of miles away.
There is a tremendous opportunity to improve this often convoluted process. An estimated 50 billion connected devices will be in use by 2020, and the supply chain behind them is getting connected, too. Companies can measure efficiency from the manufacturing floor with low-cost sensors; software can collate, interpret, and visualize data, then suggest adjustments in real time.
Flex assembled supply chain leaders in Hong Kong for a roundtable in June 2016. They shared their thoughts on how they are transforming the way they do business in the era of intelligent things.
Tom Linton SVP, Chief Procurement and Supply Chain Officer at Flex
“We have to have the ability to speed up the supply chain. Everything is going digital. So when we talk about speed, we’re talking about the rise of real-time information in supply chains. If, for example, you were in a supermarket that was using active pricing on its shelves, it would know that you’ve looked at a can of soup before, so it would discount the soup for you because it knows you’re likely to buy it.”
“In the fresh-food industry where there’s a tremendous amount of wastage, we’re monitoring containers for temperature, humidity, ethylene content, and other gases. These are not things that used to be measured at all, and such data was never transmitted to anybody. We’re now looking at these new parameters that are coming in that need to be defined within the supply chain. So, based on these parameters, if my freshness in bananas drops, for instance, then they have a shelf life of five days. We must start getting information from the container that’s in transit, let’s say from a banana farm in South America to Miami.”
“I think the IoT is going to expose the weaknesses of governments and their policies. When you start collecting data, whether it’s from farmers in China or urbanites in Tokyo, when this data starts to become more public and more transparent, it’s going to force governments and government leaders to change their policies."
“The days of running around Asia and trying to find low-cost labor are over. How can you make your supply chain better? You have to be able to measure, and the Internet of Things, putting smart sensors in manufacturing across the shop floor, enables you to measure activity in manufacturing, and once you measure it, you are capturing data. The IoT gives you an opportunity to really start drawing on the insights. It gives you that traceability and verification of products. We see a future where from the garment that you’re wearing now, we’ll be able to say, ‘That was made in this factory, sewn by this particular worker, and the fabric came from here.’”
“We’ve evolved from a horse-and-carriage to a car to public transit. I sort of disagree with the whole idea of disruption just because there’s a lot of opportunity there for us to continue to grow. [IoT] is not so much about competition anymore as it is about partnerships. We’re getting the best of what [these companies] are doing, and I believe we’re creating more opportunities. Businesses are working together because everything needs to evolve. It’s not the innovation of things, it’s the innovation of everything.”