What True Wireless Power Could Mean for Supply Chains

Supply chain managers have been rolling out new technologies to enhance operations for decades, and the disruptions the sector has experienced over the past few years have only accelerated efforts to achieve digital transformation. Sensors connected to the internet of things (IoT) increasingly enable managers to track assets, manage inventory and increase visibility into warehouse and fleet operations. 

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Despite these advancements, supply chain efficiency and visibility won’t reach its full potential until those connected devices have a reliable source of wireless power. That technology is already here. It has been certified by the FCC and deployed by leading retailers in use cases that demonstrate its utility. As the adoption of real wireless power enables supply chains to finally reach their full potential. 

Improving Visibility

Most IoT devices deployed in the supply chain today are powered by disposable or rechargeable batteries or are hardwired into the grid. But given the distances goods travel in a global (or continental) supply chain context, this means supply chain managers often have no reliable information on status from when goods leave the manufacturing site until they are received at a distribution center.

Supply chain managers often lack other relevant insights too, such as credible in-transit temperature and product condition data (e.g., data on handling, such as drops, etc.). This can significantly hamper supply chain visibility. It’s especially challenging for supply chain managers who oversee transportation of fragile goods or items in the cold chain, and failures can be a multibillion-dollar problem

With wireless power, supply chain managers can add more features to sensors to detect not only location but more granular temperature data or alerts to sudden changes in motion to detect falls and possible product damage. This will close visibility gaps between the originating site and distribution center reception, providing insight into conditions during transit that can alter quality or safety. 

Improving Sustainability

Batteries are the legacy power source supply chain managers typically use now when they monitor goods in transit via sensors. The batteries solve one problem by making it possible to power devices away from a wired power source, but they are expensive when used at scale, both at the point of purchase and in terms of labor costs when workers have to replace or recharge them. 

Batteries can also have a profoundly negative impact on the environment. Lithium mining is associated with water basin contamination and salinization of freshwater that local communities depend on near mining sites in South America. Cobalt mining in Africa has led to environmental damage and toxic pollution linked to birth defects. Improper disposal of batteries also causes significant damage. 

Deploying real wireless power can reduce waste and cut emissions in multiple use cases, including IoT devices used in the supply chain, according to ESG research firm Sustainalytics. The firm predicted that real wireless power could help organizations reach ESG objectives. 

A Real-World Proof Point

Although wireless power has already been deployed in the supply chain, the industry has only scratched the surface of its potential to add value. In one real-world pilot done by Ossia, wireless power was used to improve truck trailer tracking at a large retailer’s distribution center lot. The pilot program’s results are a strong proof point for wireless power’s ability to improve location tracking while cutting operating costs. 

The technology was tested at one of the retailer’s massive distribution centers, where goods arrive via semi trucks. Truck trailers at the location are often disconnected from the cab and stored in the yard until the loading dock can receive them. Due to the volume, yard workers often lost track of trailers and had to send people out into the lot to locate them. Conventional battery-powered GPS devices weren’t a good solution because GPS pings drained battery energy before the trailer needed to be retrieved.  

In the pilot program, tracker devices were deployed via magnets onto trailers from a wireless charging enclosure at the truck yard gate. Trackers were removed from exiting trailers and placed back into the enclosure for charging — no wires, pads or precise placement required. Distribution personnel were able to accurately locate trailers on a web dashboard 100% of the time, and the company estimated that it could save 1,400 in labor costs per year at that one distribution center.

As the distribution yard pilot program demonstrated, wireless power can improve supply chain operations and potentially save hundreds of thousands per year when cost savings are extrapolated out across multiple distribution centers operated by a major retailer. And that’s just one use case among many for wireless power in the supply chain. 

Today, supply chain professionals operate in an increasingly competitive space. Less than a quarter of companies offer a proactive supply chain network capable of quickly adapting to disruptions. In the post-pandemic world, supply chain managers who can increase visibility and efficiency will be in the best position to thrive. Wireless power is the game changer that can make it happen.

Hatem Zeine is founder, president and chief technology officer of Ossia.