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Check out our latest blog below, from Edward Porter, Director of IoT Solutions about how the supply chain can prepare for the future by improving efficiency and visibility. 

In the wake of Brexit and the recent signing of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnerships (CPTPP), the future of the UK food supply chain is undergoing a profound change and is becoming increasingly complex and global in nature. This landmark trade deal connects the UK to an Asia-Pacific trade block made up of 11 countries which will see food transported across larger distances. In this new interconnected and dynamic network, digital technology emerges as a critical ally to improve efficiency and visibility whilst helping to mitigate the risk of food waste.
Yet, addressing the unique challenges and requirements of the different supply chain organisations is no mean feat. The key lies in combining the integration of multiple technologies, including Internet of Things (IoT), digital twin technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and data-driven strategies to provide a foundation for the UK food supply chain to better prepare for the future. But just how will these technologies reshape the landscape?

Increased Visibility

Visibility over machines, processes, data, and movement plays a pivotal role in enabling enhancements in efficiency, reliability, and sustainability within the intricate web of the food supply chain. With this greater visibility, advanced insights can be gathered, and food safety and waste risks reduced.

According to the UN, food that is lost and wasted accounts for 38% of total energy usage in the global food system and, while tracking the movement of orders such as our food shops or takeaways has become the norm, there is substantially less information when it comes to movement of goods across the supply chain. With consumers becoming increasingly interested in sustainability and the origins of the ingredients they eat, companies within the supply chain should be turning to available digital solutions, such as IoT (Internet of Things), to proactively establish end-to-end traceability, mitigate waste, and ensure the safety and quality of produce during distribution and transportation. This will prove crucial in building better consumer trust and achieving sustainability goals.

Such IoT solutions can also prove critical within the final part of the food supply chain; the point of sale in a store. IoT solutions can gather, monitor, and manage real-time data from critical equipment, such as refrigeration, HVAC, and lighting systems, to identify areas for optimisations, alert to inefficiencies, faults and failures, and take automated corrective action to protect the safety and integrity of the machines themselves as well as the produce contained. The adoption of these digital technologies across the whole of the supply chain holds the potential to enhance overall sustainability as well as ensure consumer safety and visibility in the future.

Efficiency through optimisation

Efficiency is also paramount in the food supply chain, particularly given its complexity and sensitivity to factors such as perishability and fluctuating consumer demands. Despite this, according to a recent report by FourKites, 19% of organisations reported that they are not using supply chain data at all to inform any type of decision-making.

Supply chain organisations can drive efficiencies by leveraging digital technologies to streamline processes and create optimisations through the analysis of collected data, such as temperature data or location information. In the context of food supply, where timely delivery is crucial, optimisation ensures that products move seamlessly from farm to shelf, and by leveraging data analytics and advanced technology, supply chain organisations can drive better communication and collaborate to forecast demand more accurately and optimise inventory levels. Furthermore, in global markets where food can travel vast distances, optimisation becomes a key factor in minimising the carbon footprint associated with transportation.

By bringing the supply chain into the digital world, greater levels of control are enabled to achieve operational efficiency. However, to enable true efficiency, participants all the way from farm to supermarket must build a solid data foundation to reap the benefits. This will not only enhance the overall resilience and robustness of the supply chain, but also reduce waste and environmental impact, promoting sustainability.

Embracing Digital Technologies

The UK government-backed Digital Sandwich project led by IMS Evolve offers a glimpse into the future of the supply chain. The project combines advanced Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, and AI technologies to provide irrefutable traceability and provenance of produce. It serves as a national demonstrator of a digital agri-food supply chain, offering end-to-end traceability by monitoring parameters like real-time temperatures and location information. Essentially, food ingredients receive a digital identity through a traceability layer, enhancing traceability, transparency, and communication.

IoT technologies like these have already made significant inroads in the food retail industry, providing real-time insights into asset management, product quality, and energy consumption. These capabilities seamlessly extend across the broader supply chain, integrating complex and disparate systems into a unified and transparent platform. This will not only epuip the supply chain with the tools to navigate the evolving regulatory landscape but will also ensure optimal resilience for the future. Through the seamless integration of technology, heightened visibility and efficiency becomes the driving force behind year-round success for the supply chain.