The recent development of connected systems allows the increase of the fluidity of logistic operations. Supply chain digitalisation involves documents dematerialisation, the automation of stock entry and exit processes, and localisation such as positioning, tracking, geofencing etc.

This article aims at understanding the different solutions available in the packaging tracking market. How to gain control over your asset fleet with a focus on the contribution of IoT technology?

Today, the use of tags and trackers with satellite or GSM to track high-value components is already accepted. Little by little, the tracking of industrial packaging is becoming more widespread thanks to emerging technologies. 

The methods applied to the traceability of packaging are still manual (with more or less rudimentary counting or tracking tools) or automated or semi-automated, with barcodes, QR codes or, in the best case, RFID tags.

These solutions can be deployed more efficiently on all closed-loop flows, controlled with obligatory passage points. For example, the object makes a journey and returns to the departure, at the end (in the case of transporting objects between several sites of a company).

But technical and cost-related problems arise when the routes are less controlled, with a diversity of flows and a multiplicity of distribution points.

The choice of manual, semi or fully automated monitoring

The best way to understand the different technologies and, therefore, the most appropriate for your needs is to classify them in a matrix approach, classified by the amount of data transmitted and the automation of the collection.

Excel table: This is a basic, utterly manual monitoring/inventory. It allows for a limited amount of information with a relatively high risk of error.

QR Code: This uses scanning, or QR code readers, allowing fast data collection with limited volumes. Its infrastructure cost is low (label printing), but we need a commitment from the team to scan the packages. That’s why most of the time it’s an efficient way in the factory but not outside. The most appropriate use is indoors.

RFID: These are activatable tags that can be communicated remotely. This technology speeds up the process, simplifying access and improving volumes. The limit is still the cost of the infrastructure, and the need of human ressources. The most appropriate use is indoor.

Bluetooth: These are terminals that pick up at short distances. This allows for a large volume capacity and true automation of the harvest. However, the short pick-up distance makes it challenging to track long distances outside the factory.

These first four technologies are efficient on closed circuits with a small geographical area. They are perfectly adapted in the factory, with an adapted infrastructure, few connection distances and teams trained on using the technology and rigorously following the related processes.

GPS : The GPS tracker receives location information from a satellite via a receiver. It then transmits it to a GSM transmitter. This information can be sent to your phone by SMS or to an application through a remote server. GPS tracking allows you to track your assets across the world. It monitors your assets and inventories efficiently. Few of the drawback of GPS tracking is that it needs a lot of energy & not effective in indoor tracking.

Cellular network devices : 2/3/4/…5G supports vast quantities of data (audio/video…) thanks to its network and speed. In the latter case, the cost of use is above all that makes large-scale industrial use difficult.

The latest technologies are more suitable for open, multi-site circuits. However, the cost of use can be higher. They helps for continuous, real-time monitoring, visibility across all sites, very closed or open, multi-site circuits. 

Generally speaking, we would say that excel, RFID, or QR code, are suitable for small quantities and in closed areas, such as factories. Its use on a larger scale requires a costly infrastructure. Whereas GPS, cellular networks and IoT, allow for real-time tracking on a larger scale. It should be noted that certain distance constraints about the sensors must be taken into account: Bluetooth, the proximity of 15 metres maximum in front of the sensors. Although having a high price tag, the IoT meets many criteria for tracking packaging outside the factory. Here is a focus on the characteristics of the IoT.

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Focus on IoT

There are, therefore, other technical alternatives for tracking assets or equipments, such as the IoT.

Applied to logistics packaging, the IoT provides visibility on available empty packaging, on stock entries and exits, the state of filling, the physical condition of a shock, etc. The notion of precision and speed is essential. The status can be updated at each key stage of the distribution process by automatic feedback from the sensor.

This makes it possible to better anticipate maintenance operations, fleet renewal or search for a container.

Reducing inventory gaps and improving the turnover of a packaging fleet has an even more significant upstream advantage: it allows the fleet to be sized with a smaller safety margin and, therefore, a lower investment.

A significant additional advantage is that where information takes time to be processed today (loss of a package, theft, or abnormal retention), these anomalies in logistical fluidity can be processed automatically by an early warning system, thus guaranteeing optimal circulation of assets. 

The benefits of IoT monitoring automation will therefore be :

Operational :

– Location, tracking in the progress of the flow, the anticipation of delays

– Integrity monitoring measurement of shocks, temperatures, etc.

– Acceleration of information processing, stock reports and inventories by warehouse

Economic :

– Better stock sizing

– Improved stock rotation and management of obsolescence,

– Less recourse to palliative solutions in lost packaging

– Reduction or even elimination of monitoring and management costs

– Potentially, and in conjunction with a blockchain, a tool for the transfer of responsibility

Commercial :

– Simplification of deposit management,

– Better business relationships with partners involved in packaging retention.

To conclude, these asset tracking technologies make things much simpler. Through these tags and labels, you get real-time information on assets. Once it is implemented, assets can be easily located, along with all the information related to the particular one.

For example, how much assets are being utilized & how much maintenance each asset takes, will assist you in making a well-informed decision. All these activities will save a lot of money for an organization. Also, all operations will be optimized & productivity will enhance.

All technologies have their own benefits for example GPS is one the best technique for outdoor tracking but it is not effective indoor tracking. Therefore, the best technology varies according to business requirements.

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