Track & Trace has become indispensable in the logistics industry. But what exactly is it about GPS, barcodes, RFID and AIS? In this article, we would like to get to the bottom of it all and shed some light on the subject. What is Track & Trace and which technologies are used for it?
Track & Trace is the process of identifying the past and current location of objects. Thus, the status can be monitored – throughout the entire supply chain. Even after delivery, the transport process can still be retraced.
Track & Trace via barcodes
A widely used method of tracking parcel delivery services is tracking via barcodes. The parcel is provided with a barcode and is read by a scanner each time the parcel changes location. In this way, the data comprising the shipment, including the time and place of delivery, is stored in a central database. Both the customer and the parcel delivery service can now check the parcel’s current location . Barcodes offer the advantage that they are cheap and easy to produce. A disadvantage, however, is that scanning from a further distance is not possible. Visual contact is necessary, and it is not possible to scan several items at once. In today’s time, shipment tracking is also partly possible via QR codes.
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a technology based on the exchange of electromagnetic waves. The RFID system is used to identify and locate objects. The procedure is considered as a successor of the barcode system. By using a transponder as a data carrier with an antenna, data can be read without visual contact or touch. With built-in sensors, the transponder can also determine information about the temperature and humidity in containers. In contrast to the barcode, the RFID chip can collect data at greater distances. This allows a rapid detection of multiple articles in a short time.
Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) include Mobile Phone Tracking, GPS and Bluetooth. Depending on the area of application, the applicability of the technologies varies. GPS is rather used for outdoor applications, while Bluetooth is more suitable for the localization of objects indoors. With small Bluetooth transmitters, the so-called beacons, it is easier to locate products in department stores or to analyze and optimize the routes of forklifts.
GPS is widely known from navigation systems that allow us to track our own position. The same system can be applied to Track & Trace. The technology makes it possible to continuously localize the location of individual means of transportation with goods deliveries in real time.
GPS stands for “Global Positioning System” and is a satellite navigation system from the USA which enables worldwide positioning. Through the interaction of at least 3-4 satellites, which emit coded radio signals, the position can be determined up to several meters accurately. Thus, the delivery can not only be tracked, but also protected against theft. Some systems provide an alarm function which is triggered the moment the container is moved by unauthorized persons.
With blockchain technology, data can be stored locally and made securely accessible to a specific group of users. Via a sensor, the data about the product, including its location, enters the block chain and is synchronized for the users after an automated transaction. Blockchain does not belong to the technologies of direct object detection but can be a supplement to digital object tracking.
There is a wide range of different radar systems available, including those for air traffic and for maritime traffic. The online ship radar is a so-called Automatic Identification System (AIS), a radio system that exchanges valuable data of the traffic participants. Any ship or boat that has an AIS radio device can be imaged on the radar. In this way, the current positions of container ships, cruise ships and fishing boats can be tracked. This helps to avoid collisions, make illegal fishing more difficult, and trace the routes of various ships.
Integration of Track & Trace on a platform
Another way to track deliveries is to integrate Track & Trace on a supply chain platform. As soon as the shipment has left the port, it is noted and transmitted via the platform to all participants in the supply chain. This process is continued at all the further stages of the supply chain, so that the status can be viewed at any time. In this way, everyone involved in the shipment is always informed and directly notified of any changes via the platform. Digital supply chain platforms – such as limbiq.com, for example – provide additional communication tools that make it possible to react quickly to changes or problems in the supply chain and maintain a continuous flow of information.
What advantages does Track & Trace offer me?
One of the main advantages of Track & Trace is that it is no longer necessary to track down goods via telephone calls and e-mail contact. Especially in the case of delays due to unforeseen events, such an analogous process is quickly associated with high expenditure of work. Transparent Track & Trace solutions can significantly reduce this effort. However, transparency is not only an important factor when changes are made in the process. A transparent supply chain helps to identify problems and potentials to improve the quality of the supply chain. Since the delivery can be traced even after delivery, errors can be detected and assigned more easily. Processes can be compared and optimized. Depending on the location, the various technologies can also be combined with each other. Goods tracking also offers several advantages in warehouse logistics. Items are found faster and information on the availability of storage spaces can be called up in real time.