The coronavirus pandemic has created a once-in-a-lifetime disruption of the way we live and work. Virtually every industry faces challenges related to the virus, and every business needs to find ways to survive in this period of uncertainty.
One tool that businesses in a variety of industries can use right now is the Internet of Things (IoT). By deploying inexpensive, secure sensor systems that are easy to install, businesses can gain visibility into their operations to improve safety, efficiency and productivity. Here are four examples of how IoT tools can help key industries deliver what society needs right now.
1. Protecting food and pharmaceuticals in transit
Demand for groceries skyrocketed in March as cities and states implemented stay-at-home orders and many restaurants closed their dining rooms. The trucking industry came through, with drivers working longer than normal hours to ensure that grocery stores were able to keep their shelves stocked.
However, peaks in demand aren’t the only challenges the transportation and grocery industries will face. As the coronavirus spreads, there are concerns that farmers may not be able to fully harvest crops or that food plants may have to reduce output if workers fall ill. This makes it more important than ever to reduce food waste in transit.
Reducing waste in transit also matters for pharmaceuticals. About half of all pharma products now require temperature-controlled transportation, but about 20% encounter cold chain failures along the way. When treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus are finally ready for market, preventing that waste will be an urgent matter of life and death.
IoT systems can help reduce product damage in transit by giving transportation companies a real-time view of temperature, humidity, vibration and location of products. With a set of sensors, a bridge and a GPS transmitter on each truck, data can be collected for each shipment to ensure cold chain compliance and identify areas for improvement.
2. Helping restaurants prevent food waste and foodborne illness
Despite the huge hit the restaurant industry has suffered with the closure of dining rooms, many chefs and owners are soldiering on. Many are focusing on takeout and delivery, some have added groceries to their offerings and some are stepping up to ensure that health care workers have healthy meals on the job.
Nevertheless, many eateries have had to lay off workers and are just getting by right now. It’s essential that restaurants reduce unnecessary costs by preventing food waste and maintaining safe food storage. The IoT can help with both. By deploying remote temperature sensors in coolers and freezers, restaurants can get accurate, real-time readings without the need for an employee to stop what they’re doing and fill out paper logs. And with a sensor network in place, managers can get alerts when there’s a problem such as a cooler door that’s been left open or a freezer malfunctioning.
3. Helping data centers maintain uptime
With most office workers now at home, connecting to their co-workers via the cloud, data centers are more important than ever to the economy. While the demand for uptime has never been stronger, many data centers are also facing longer wait times for replacement equipment due to supply chain disruptions. That means catching problems early, before they can cause outages, is critical.
Three key conditions that data center managers need to monitor are temperature, humidity and dew point, because excessive heat, moisture and condensation can damage equipment. With temperature, humidity and dew point sensors attached to equipment, managers can always see conditions in real-time. They can also get alerts and see exactly where conditions are out of range so they can focus their maintenance efforts quickly. And sensor networks reduce the need for employees to spend time on manual condition monitoring.
4. Supporting productivity for manufacturers
Manufacturers have been exceptionally productive in the face of ongoing labor shortages, and now they face new challenges. For many, the supply chain has been disrupted and the number of workers on the job has been reduced by illness, layoffs and the need for safe social distancing.
Some manufacturers have seen steep declines in demand for their products due to the pandemic recession. Others—especially in medical devices and personal protective equipment for health care workers—are struggling to meet the explosion in demand. In some cases, manufacturers in other industries, like GM and Apple, are switching some of their production to medical equipment and supplies.
Every manufacturer wants to work as efficiently as possible. For plants now producing PPE, medical ventilators and other medical equipment, efficiency can help save lives. IoT systems can help plants work more efficiently by
- monitoring equipment temperature and vibration
- alerting managers when equipment is operating out of range
- identifying shifts or lines that are lagging in productivity
With this information, managers can have equipment serviced before it fails and causes unplanned downtime. They can also work with employees to identify and correct the causes of low productivity so that every shift or line is doing its best work.
Because the coronavirus pandemic is such a huge challenge to society, it’s going to take many tools to help businesses survive so they can keep us fed, help people work from home and ensure that health care workers and patients have the lifesaving equipment and supplies they need. We believe that for many businesses, wireless sensor networks can be an important tool to reach those goals.
To learn more about how a wireless IoT sensor network can help your business now, contact us.