The convergence of technologies onto a single unified platform (specifically RFID, barcoding, static and dynamic weighing, dimensioning and sensors) will transform the supply chain whether the shipment is by air, land or sea. But it wont happen tomorrow.
Synchronicity Is Coming Soon to a Shipper and Carrier Near You
This synchronicity is the ability to segment, weigh, monitor inbound temperature or pressure, dimension and tag a shipment to provide visibility to the consignee from the shippers dock door, to the consignor, to the consignees dock door and transmit required information either to a shippers legacy warehouse management system (WMS) or enterprise-level shipping manifesting system.
Imagine the ability for a pharmaceutical manufacturer to synchronize the shipment of a refrigerated vaccine to
All of the major parcel carriers use sophisticated, leading-edge technology to weigh, dimension and identify shipments dynamically at speeds of 600 parcels per minute in their hub locations. Its hard to imagine an industry where synchronicity holds more promise than the commercial shipping business. Recently, the rapid evolution of both passive and active tags has catapulted RFID to the forefront of the disparate technologies required for shippers and carriers alike. Today, most players leverage line of sight barcode technologies. Both shippers and carriers see the enormous potential of increasing visibility throughout the supply chain.
Disparate Technologies Galore
Yet, there are many technologies and services available in todays environment, and until synchronicity becomes the norm, the challenge lies in determining which option is best for your business.
RFID: RFID offers great potential for tracking shipments deep through the supply chain from origin through destination. Some customers who ship high-value goods are already using active tags (those tags with their own integrated power source).
RFID technology has a well-chronicled ability to reduce paperwork and eliminate time-consuming, repetitive and unique · data collection tasks. The process of manually scanning barcodes along the supply chain can be replaced with RFID tag interrogators. So, as you load a container, packages pass through a portal, and you get a read on the tag. The technology is much faster than having a worker scan the barcode and manually place the package in the container.
With the lengthening of supply chains spanning the globe from the Pacific Rim to the Americas, and American manufacturing leveraging lean and JIT shipment methodologies, the need for real-time visibility into the supply chain is paramount.
Recently, the rapid evolution of both passive and active tags has catapulted RFID to the
forefront of the disparate technologies required for shippers and carriers alike.
Static Weighing: With all of the recent headlines regarding RFID tagging and cutting-edge sensors, it would appear that static weighing has somehow taken a back seat. This isnt quite true.
Static weighing is still the standard bearer for commercial shippers. These industry workhorses include bench scales, floor scales, motor truck and railroad track scales. Static solutions range from a shippers pallet scale used to weigh palletized freight prior to an LTL shipment, to a tabletop-mounted bench scale used for weighing parcel shipments worldwide, to motor truck scales for weighing third-party logistics carriers LTL loads, to railroad track scales for inter-modal freight transport. Static weighing still sets the benchmark.
Dynamic Weighing: With the advent of global commerce and the sudden explosion of the distribution center infrastructure,
the need for in-line dynamic weighing systems with the same regulatory conformance characteristics as static weighing has been gaining favor.
Distribution centers throughout the world use sorting conveyors, AS/RS systems and sophisticated WMS to run everything from picking, cross-docking and order entry middleware for shipping execution and shipping optimization algorithms on top of miles of conveyor systems.
Barcoding: Before RFID, barcodes were used to identify everything from the shippers identification, package contents and part number, as well as weight and part count. Volumes of information needed to be stored in a limited amount of space. Plus, line of sight is required to read a barcode.
With the advent of Reduced Space Symbology-14 (RSS-14), many shippers are now deploying hybrid printers with RSS-14 barcode generating and printing software. The RSS-14 barcode symbology is a new type of barcode that is designed primarily for applications where space for a barcode symbol is limited. In addition to being smaller than most other types of barcodes, RSS barcodes can encode up to 14 numeric digits and can also be produced with an optional two dimensional composite component capable of encoding up to 2,361 additional bytes of alpha/numeric data all within a single symbol.
Dimension: LTL and parcel carriers have known for years that what they really sell is space on the truck. Though weight is important for legal highway transport, logistics companies learned early on that heavy things can come in small boxes and vice-versa. Thus, transportation and logistics carriers optimized on this technology long ago.
Sensors: Shortly, sensors will be available with active tags with a read rate of up to 30 meters unobstructed as well as integrated temperature and pressure measurement that can be read on liquid and metal containers which are immune to gamma rays and virtually indestructible in transport.
The ability to read these sensors from satellites using GPS, coupled with cell phone triangulation, makes this a promising development. Because cell phones (sensors) put out a constant RF output (sometimes pulsed), they can be tracked using the tower triangulation method where the network administrators can find the users precise location with their administrative network access.
Imagine a chemical shipper with a hazardous load and this technology they could monitor temperature, weight and tamper resistance on a remote computer screen real-time. This is no longer the stuff of science fiction; it is being done today.
Key Stumbling Blocks Remain
Global demand on the system, current RFID tag cost, interrogator read rates, weighing and dimensional legal-for-trade shipping regulatory requirements, consignor-required conveyor speeds and shorter turnaround timeframes for premium priced overnight handling all place unique demands on both parcel and freight throughput. But the apparent disparate technologies appear not to be the pacing item any more. In fact, the technology appears to be available now in bits and pieces. It is simply a matter of time before the synchronicity and synergy of placing these technologies onto a single, open-architected platform occurs.
With all of the new technologies available, this is an exciting time for carriers and shippers. And in the eyes of these carriers and shippers, the emerging technologies have arrived not a moment too soon.
Jim Sexton, Vice President of Marketing for Rice Lake Weighing Systems, can be reached at 715-234-9171. For further information about product offerings, please visit www.ricelake.com.