In the age of the consumer-led supply chain, the industry-wide implementation of track and trace technology is the next logical step. Logistics companies want to know where their fleet is at any given time, and consumers want to be able to follow the journey their goods take. Today, that technology covers RFID, GPS and EPOS, all of which aim to increase the efficiency of the supply chain throughout the life cycle.
Albis Technologies, which develops and markets electronic systems for the industry sector, has identified several ways in which companies can benefit from adopting this technology: reduced search time, automated real-time inventory, prevention of loss, improved quality, cost and usage monitoring, and condition monitoring.
“The cutting edge technology that exists nowadays and the advances that we are making, all do one thing, which is the cornerstone to supply chain management – they all provide transparency,” explains Tony Hardy, Managing Director, Daylight Supply Chain Services. He adds that by understanding the supply chain and what’s happening within it, companies can re-engineer that same chain.
One of the systems providing unrivalled transparency in the chain is RFID technology – both passive and active. Active RFID is some of the newest technology in the sector which is why it is one of the most valuable systems, according to Zeno Stämmer, Vice President, ZOMOFI, Albis Technologies. He is seeing instances whereby companies are supporting the entire supply chain with RFID.
Radio-Frequency Identification System comprises three parts: a scanning antenna, a transceiver and a transponder (the RFID tag). The scanning antenna not only provides the means by which it can communicate with the transponder but it also provides the RFID tag with the energy required to do so. A key part of this technology is that by avoiding the need to be powered by batteries, the tag can operate for long periods of time.
Active RFID uses its own power source, thereby extending the distance at which it can receive signal. The difference when it comes to passive RFID is that these tags do not require a source of power. As such, they have a limitless life span. “You can put out the readers at certain points,” explains Stämmer, “and the transponders can be localized over a range of 50, 100 and
Stämmer believes that a drop in the cost of RFID transponders in the near future should encourage companies to adopt the technology as part of their standard tracking system. “The industry will understand the integration into their ERP system or their warehouse management system, and they will adopt it,” he adds.
Hardy agrees: “If you can get sufficient people interested and the cost of the technology drops significantly from where it is now, RFID will be revolutionary because RFID is a lot more intelligent.”
GAPS IN THE MARKET
In Hardy’s view, the benefit of these systems is clear cut. “People can now see, no matter how many different partners, no matter how complex or convoluted the logistics, people can see where the product is and understand the supply chain.”
At Albis Technologies, the next step is advanced RTLS technology which enables tags within a zone to be identified with greater precision. Meanwhile, its ruggedized tag is designed to withstand the most extreme environment and climate changes. Its new ATEX EX certified products use active RFID and are harmless in explosive gas or dust zones. This might all sound quite excessive and certainly these products are geared towards niche markets. However, that’s just it – there is now a market for these technologies where only a few years ago there was not.
“Asset tracking is rapidly becoming a critical feature for the optimization and control of logistics and for the added security of valuable inventory,” says Stämmer.
But Hardy is adamant that there is more work to be done to meet the supply chain needs of consumers and companies alike. “We’re seeing gaps in the marketplace that are, as yet, unfilled,” he adds. “I look at how people are managing their supply chains and the world is crying out for better, more sophisticated solutions; better visibility, better transparency, better ERP systems, better best in breed systems.”
With the emergence of even more precise tracking systems, and the increased demand for such technology, it seems the industry has acknowledged the need to provide transparency. Consumers needs are being met and now it’s down to the technology companies themselves, like Albis Technologies, to stay one step ahead and ensure that track and trace systems are continually brought to market.