By Kayla Tyree
Supply chain visibility refers to the ability to have an internal view into all activities and operations beginning from the point of raw material, through the shipping process, and all the way to consumption. As supply chains have grown in size and complexity over time, so has the necessity to access supply chain information every step of the way. Systems that can provide all those involved in the supply chain process with a timely flow of information have become essential in creating efficient and long-lasting supply chains. Thanks to this need, real-time tracking systems have emerged to help logisticians stay informed on the whereabouts and details of the entire supply chain process. These technological innovations have fully transformed the way that businesses operate and manage their supply chain for the better.
Real-time tracking is a cutting-edge technology that provides accurate and continuous data up to the minute including the location and status of any goods in transit. By utilizing various technologies such as the global positioning system (GPS), radio frequency identification (RFID), and IoT sensors, businesses have been granted the capability to gain real-time insight into the condition, movement, and estimated time of arrival (ETA) of all of their shipments. There are several key mechanics that are necessary to ensure real-time tracking data stays accurate and current at all times. IoT sensors, tiny sensors that are generally embedded into vehicles, shipments, or containers, are first equipped and activated in order to gather data related to temperature, humidity, shock, and location. Then, the data collected through these transmitters is sent through wireless networks onto centralized software platforms.
The GPS system is also used to capture more precise location data. This transmission ensures that information continually updates and is available to stakeholders. In the next step, this information is then integrated into various more sophisticated software and is processed into a more user-friendly interface for stakeholders to read. Real-time tracking has truly revolutionized the logistics process in its entirety. In addition to the more obvious benefits that real-time tracking has created such as increased operational efficiency and location tracking, it has also made it possible to predict accurate estimated time of arrivals (ETAs) and has given supply chain workers the means to swiftly intervene should any shipping deviations or disruptions arise along its route.
Passive vs. Active Tracking
There are two primary types of GPS tracking when it comes to the matter of transferring data to its users: passive and active tracking. When it comes to passive tracking, the tracking device is not a transmitter and is instead only a receiver. This type of GPS requires that it be directly connected to a computer to input its data. Passive tracking methods are mostly used to log data that can be downloaded and viewed at a later time. Because of this, you don’t actually have the opportunity to see passive tracking data in real-time. Instead, you will see historical records of that device's movement and location once its information has been downloaded.
This type of tracking is often used when there is a need to minimize data transmission or battery usage, or if continuous tracking is unnecessary. Active tracking, on the other hand, involves continuously live-monitored transmissions. This type of tracking provides updates at regular intervals, allowing for a constant stream of information for those who need it. Aside from GPS technology and sensor data collection, active tracking systems also rely on cellular networks and cloud-based platforms to enable real-time updates. Active systems also use a method called trilateration to help ensure location accuracy, wherein the GPS pinpoints its position by comparing it to the position of three known main points (satellites).
Implementing Real-Time Tracking
There are several key steps one should take when considering the implementation of a real-time tracking system. You must first define your overall objectives. This entails identifying key metrics you wish to monitor such as location, ETA predictions, or shipment condition. Next, you want to select the right type of tracking technology to best suit your needs. Here you can consider the nature of your shipment, the environmental conditions it will face, and the level of accuracy you wish to have. After evaluating different platform options and choosing the one that seems most helpful, you will want to integrate the tracking system into your existing infrastructure, likely with the help of your IT department to ensure a seamless data flow between the tracking devices and existing software. Once that step is complete, you can install tracking devices onto the shipments you wish to be monitored, it is important here to ensure proper placement for the most accurate data transmission. By regularly monitoring the system's performance and evaluating feedback from users and stakeholders, you can use analytical tools in order to gain insight into areas that need improvement so that operations can be optimized.
Real-time tracking plays a considerably large role in increasing an organization's overall supply chain visibility. Some ways it does this is through end-to-end transparency and proactive issue resolution. With the potential for real-time trackers to provide insight into every aspect of a shipment's journey and the power to provide immediate alerts should delays or disruptions occur, supply chain professionals have the ability to help deescalate challenges before they have an opportunity to become major bottlenecks. This also allows for data-driven insights into overall operational performance which can help an organization work on mitigating risk and increasing efficiency. There are also several other methods that you can use alongside real-time tracking in order to further improve visibility. These techniques include mapping out your supply chain networks, communicating with suppliers often, and tweaking operations based on customer feedback. Keep in mind that your organization should always be analyzing data to keep an eye out for potential improvements and adjusting operations accordingly. Doing so will help your business keep its edge so that it can stay ahead of the competition.
Since the turn of the 21st century, real-time data tracking has made leaps and bounds in its capabilities. Judging from the progress that it has made in even just the more recent years, it seems likely we will continue to see improvements and developments as time goes on. Real-time tracking has truly helped reshape the way that we approach logistics practices and continues to provide crucial information across every step of the supply chain. This ability to monitor assets in real-time has made it possible for businesses to increase their size and reach, enabling them to better navigate the ever-changing complexities surrounding the global marketplace.
ASCI specializes in helping businesses like yours to address supply chain management challenges. Visit our website to learn more and to arrange for a free consultation.