UPS: How IoT devices are transforming supply chain logistics

IoT devices on UPS trailers collect approximately 50-60 million GPS messages a week.

UPS: How IoT devices are transforming supply chain logistics
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In part two of our five-part series about UPS, TechRepublic's Karen Roby talked with Mike Allen, transportation technology manager at UPS, and Juan Perez, CIO of UPS, to discuss the company's use of the Internet of Things (IoT). The following is an edited transcript of their conversations, which was conducted in December 2019.

Download the entire series: Inside UPS: The logistics company's never-ending digital transformation (free PDF) 

Karen Roby: The Internet of Things was once dubbed the next industrial revolution. IoT sensors make it possible for physical objects to communicate, producing billions of data points that make it possible for companies like UPS to decide how they'll act, react, and plan for the future. 

Mike Allen: Our yards are always dynamic. They're always changing. They're always moving.

Karen Roby: Long before IoT was a buzzword, UPS was pushing its legacy system to track thousands of moving assets 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Manual methods were used to track on property, on the road, in the air, and on rail. As technology has evolved and intelligent devices have emerged, the company now has an even better grasp on the precise location of every asset at all times.

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A map of IoT sensors reflect the location of more than 100,000 UPS assets

Image: Derek Poore

Mike Allen: The automation now with the intelligent device allows us to evaluate against that, to now give us even better location information about our devices. We look to make sure that we have very trustworthy GPS information and when we evaluate that against our legacy systems, we then can create alerts or even reconcile against those systems automatically, and that's where the real advantage does come into play.

Karen Roby: The trailers that carry packages are one of the most important pieces of property that the company needs to track. Not long ago, UPS put the smart trailer IoT system in place. Now more than 100,000 trailers are outfitted with an IoT device that sends back on average about 50 messages a day.

Mike Allen: Those trailers can go to two or three locations in just one day, so we're getting millions of messages a week--right now, we're probably 50 to 60 million just GPS messages. What we've also done is tie that together with some other systems that we've done, so latitude and longitude information and a dot on the map doesn't really give you enough information. You need the context with the rest of the data. So, we've gone after a geographic information system where we do our geo-fences.

Karen Roby: Geo-fencing more than 10,000 locations gives employees a handle on important areas including the hubs, exchange points for drivers, airports, and railroads. The information produced from those areas is then combined with the GPS coordinates generated by the smart trailer devices.

Mike Allen: Now we have load information, trailer information, automotive information... we have the driver and the schedule information that we've associated with the trailer. With all that data coming in and us processing it, that's when now we evaluate and we say, "OK, here's what the legacy system says, here's what our GPS trustworthy message says," and we evaluate.

SEE: Securing IoT in your organization: 10 best practices (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

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Geo-fencing more than 10,000 locations gives employees a handle on important areas including the hubs, exchange points for drivers, airports, and railroads.

Image: UPS

Karen Roby: With so many IoT devices in play and others in the works, security is more important than ever.

Mike Allen: There's always new risks. There's always new things that you have to be aware of and on the outlook for. So we take security very seriously here, and we continue to run those scans. We continue to do our testing and our due diligence to make sure that we do have our data very secure.

Karen Roby: The smart trailer program is one example of what can happen when companies and vendors work toward a common goal.

Juan Perez: Our partners are close to UPS. They understand our business, they know how the business functions, they know the needs that we have within the business. They know how their products can make UPS better, and they're also willing to make investments in showing how their technologies and solutions can help UPS succeed.

SEE: Special report: The rise of Industrial IoT (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Karen Roby: UPS CIO Juan Perez says the company relies heavily on the expertise of outside partners to carry out company initiatives.

Juan Perez: We count on them to really help us continue to drive our technology strategy. We don't believe for anything in the world these days that we can build a smart logistics network with only UPS know-how. Today it's more important than ever before that we establish the right partnerships.

Karen Roby: As IoT capabilities continue to develop, company leaders look to find ways to create more efficiencies that further improve the overall employee and customer experience.

Mike Allen: Our horizon, our roadmap, door sensor, so we know when doors are open and closed. Cargo sensors, so we know if the trailer's got volume on it or not, even if it's being loaded or being unloaded and what percent full the trailers are. Electronic door locks... so all those things are manual processes that we do well today. But there are now sensors, the Internet of Things that are available or becoming more available, more accessible. We've got the team that is just firing on all cylinders right now, and that just allows us to deliver very quickly out there.

Read our entire UPS series

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Image: Derek Poore/TechRepublic