The Internet of Things (IoT) was originally the concept of “things talking”.  In the early days we envisioned RFID tags on everything, helping to identify and locate any object in the universe.  The RFID tag would uniquely identify the item, determine its location, and put a time stamp to the transaction.  It was a straightforward concept.  It was either there, or it was not.  It was all about identity and location.

Once understood that RFID could “talk”, people started to think about other things that could “talk” over the Internet.  This brought sensors and devices into the fold. Similar to an RFID tag detecting a change in location, sensors and devices detected a change in state.  It was either on or off, hot or cold, dark or light. 

In this world, one was looking for a change in state to create a response.  If a temperature sensor was above freezing, there was a problem with the freezer.  If RFID tagged items moved from the store shelf, one reduced the inventory in that location.  A predetermined response or responses was tied to that change in state.  

It became apparent that if two IoT devices were connected together a more accurate response would be developed, providing multiple pieces of information.  It moved from being a binary response to being a system response.  No longer was it on/off, but now it was on/off and hot/cold.  

For example, think of all the devices, motors, sensors, and machinery and mechanical equipment in a warehouse.  There are thousands of points of information and potential changes in the state of a warehouse.  Today, all of this information is in a functional silo.  The conveyor system has information that is separate from the lighting system that is separate from the WCS and WMS.  In a warehouse today one is optimizing a subset of the total operations.

In an IoT connected warehouse all of the devices communicate across a common platform.  Within the platform resides all of the information that is generated by The Connected Warehouse™, providing a holistic view of the warehouse.  One is able to analyze the data in a near real time manner, improving the performance and efficiency.  Changes to the performance of the system can be made to achieve a specific business goal.

Today, there are discussions around wave picking versus waveless picking.  In an IoT environment the questions are not around the picking strategy, but rather around how to achieve maximum throughput given the constraints of The Connected Warehouse. 

The first step to achieving this connected future is to install a platform that is capable of collecting, cleansing, and harmonizing all of the information generated in a connected warehouse.

Layered on top of the platform will be industry specific analytics tools and business applications that will take advantage of this data.  The analytics will be used to look for improvement opportunities for the business.  The business applications will take advantage of the data to use it in specific processes to improve operations.  This will require that the platform enable data to be distributed to the right process in order to facilitate improvements.

Finally, when there are enough devices connected to the platform, the machines, and sub-systems, systems will begin to communicate with one another attempting to optimize automatically.  The warehouse is one example of a connected entity.  We have connected cars, connected houses, and connected cities.  Connected takes a complicated system, puts it on a platform, and optimizes and automates the environment in a way that was never before possible.  This is the future potential of IoT.

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Eric Peters
Eric Peters