The Internet of things

6 August 2015

2001 Croucher scholar, Dr Sing Yiu Cheung, is the director of research and development of PINC Solutions, an American supply chain specialist which is using the Internet of things to help companies to track millions of freight shipments in real time.

In 2001 Cheung was awarded a Croucher Foundation Scholarship for his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley where he worked on a wireless sensor network for traffic surveillance – essentially using the Internet of things to improve traffic control.

The same Internet of things concept applies to the platform offered by PINC, who pioneered the use of a sensor network to provide the industry’s first real-time asset location platform. Using operational data from warehouse and location information from trailers that are in transit, PINC’s solution gives its clients real-time asset and shipment status by location.

Taking the Internet of things further, PINC can also track the temperatures of trailers in transit using sensors that pass data through mobile broadband. This is important for shipments holding perishable goods such as foods which need to be kept frozen, or at a specific temperature throughout transit. In the past, the contents of shipments were easily spoilt as it was difficult and costly to keep track of temperature during transit.

The technology is not restricted to shipping, however. PINC has recently gained automotive giant, Daimler AG, as a customer. Daimler’s interest is in first having a system created and implemented to track all vehicle parts during manufacturing. Secondly, tracking each of the components. The aim of this is to enhance efficiency and visibility – in other words, optimisation.

Similarly, Macy’s department store has recently introduced a pilot programme to keep track of its inventory. Traditionally, inventory keeping has been a time-consuming, costly task, prone to human error. Using RFID tags, Macy’s is able to keep track of inventory by scanning items. This has shortened the inventory process to minutes rather than days.

Cheung points out two key barriers that are keeping the technology from market domination. Firstly, the initial costs of hardware architecture are high, and secondly, the new hardware requires the retraining of internal staff. Some companies have found such changes to be met with resistance.

However, he points out that the benefits outweigh the seemingly high initial cost, as the return on investment is very high, meaning that initial costs are generally recovered within months of adoption.

To assist with the transition, some companies have begun to pilot the new system whilst continuing to use their existing system alongside. Although this does tend to overload workers, who then have two systems to contend with, it is a step forward. However, this gradual pace of change may mean that it takes some years for companies to become solely wireless sensor users, inadvertently allowing earlier adopters to gain market share.

Dr. Cheung received his B.Eng degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Hong Kong in 2001. Following the completion of his undergraduate studies, he was awarded a Croucher Foundation scholarship for his Ph.D study at The University of California, Berkeley, which he completed in 2006.

To view Dr Sing Yiu Cheung’s Croucher profile, please click here.

For more information on Croucher Scholarships, please click here.