The cost of beacons and the infrastructure to scan and track them has come down significantly, and many service providers are emerging with software to quickly identify containers that are out of tune or off track.
When launching a new container program, we may require manufacturers to label all units with passive RFID or BLE tags. RFID tags are the least expensive, but the infrastructure to scan them can still be very expensive. BLE beacons can use existing infrastructure for scanning and tracking, but beacons cost more. Both technologies count containers when they are near drives.
Using RFID tags makes sense when containers are certain to pass through dedicated dock doors. Where dock doors are not dedicated, you can use BLE beacons that can be read by existing phones, tablets or computers near the dock area to collect the necessary data.
In the 1990s, the use of sensor technology was not financially feasible, but today I see it as an indispensable tool for keeping container fleets intact.
However, to track these assets after they leave the dock, you would need scanners along the routes. Instead, we can add another layer of technology by attaching LPWA beacons to trailers. Then we can associate the containers inside those trailers with an LPWA tag and be able to track their movement in real time. If a trucker deviates from a planned route, we can quickly identify and correct the error. We can also see how many containers are unloaded at a particular stop along the driver’s route and immediately know if the wrong number is dropped off and quickly adjust.
These strategies can go a long way in helping our industry protect its valuable container fleets and track the flow of parts shipments to ensure manufacturing efficiency. In North America, I lead a team with several automakers that created guidelines for returnable transport technology. These guidelines will be published by the AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group) in 2021. The adoption of these industry standards will enable good communication between companies in the automotive supply chain without the need to disclose confidential information. . I look forward to the day when we can all be sure that our containers are exactly where they are supposed to be, at the right time and in the right quantity.