The world of tracking technology is growing and evolving every single year. There’s a whole range of exciting advancements, from cloud systems and blockchain to drones, 2D barcodes, IoT devices, GPS, 5G connectivity, AI, and even augmented reality – just to name a few! In this article, I’ll highlight 9 cutting-edge trends in tracking technologies. Further I’ll include examples that will show you how to apply these technologies to your supply chains to enhance visibility and traceability like never before.
- 1. Cloud-based Platforms Enable Easier Integration For Supply Chain Visibility.
- 2. Blockchain Provides Traceability Technology For Supply Chains.
- 3. Drones Technology For The Transport Goods And Inventory Visibility.
- 4. 2D And QR Barcodes Able To Store More Data And Increases Interoperability.
- 5. IoT Devices Increases The Capabilities And Durability Of Tracking Technology.
- 6. Real-Time Global Positioning System (GPS) Tracking Technology.
- 7. 5G Broadband Cellular Standard Empowers Real-Time Tracking Technology.
- 8. Augmented Reality (AR) Enables Context For Better Tracking Of Asset Status And Visibility.
- 9. Proactive AI-Power Predictive Analytics Precludes Shipment Delays.
1. Cloud-based Platforms Enable Easier Integration For Supply Chain Visibility.
Cloud-based platforms enable seamless data sharing and collaboration among supply chain partners. This is because cloud-based software is kept updated by the vendor. Further, the vendor’s technical support is more available and knowledgeable of the cloud-based environment.
For example, a company can more easily integrate their cloud-based inventory management systems with their cloud-based transportation management systems. Indeed, this is a lot better than if they were hosting each software application themselves and providing their own technical support. Now, the primary downsides to using cloud-based hosting is data security, and recurring subscription pricing. Also, there is the potential challenge of having to migrate off a cloud-based platform to include data interfaces.
Another option to leverage cloud-based integration is to use the services of a 3rd party logistics (3PL) provider. Depending on your need, 3PLs can be your platform for order fulfillment, WMS, TMS, tracking visibility, freight bill processing, and carrier integration. For more information, see my write-up on 3PL Technology and Automation.
2. Blockchain Provides Traceability Technology For Supply Chains.
Blockchain, though not in widespread use, can have utility in some special use cases such as for high value and controlled items such as pharmaceuticals. This is because blockchain technology can provide enhanced security, traceability, and transparency in supply chain operations.
For instance, by using blockchain-based solutions, companies can create an immutable record of each transaction. As a result, they can track the movement of goods from the point of origin to the final destination. As a result, this ensures authenticity and reduces the risk of fraud or tampering.
3. Drones Technology For The Transport Goods And Inventory Visibility.
Last Mile Deliveries. Drones have the potential to add a new dimension to the transport and delivery of goods. This is because in select scenarios drones are faster and can be more efficient for last-mile deliveries. For example, companies like Amazon are experimenting with drone delivery services to reduce delivery times and reach remote areas with ease.
Warehouse Inventory. Furthermore, drones offer improved inventory tracking visibility by providing real-time data on the location and condition of goods. By attaching sensors and cameras to drones, companies can monitor the movement of inventory throughout the supply chain. For instance, warehouse managers are using drones to do 100% inventory of their warehouses. In these situations, drones are using cameras and other sensor devices to count inventory. Then the business can reconcile these physical counts with their inventory management systems. As a result, drones can replace the mind-numbing physical inventory counts. Hence, this is both time saving and increases inventory accuracy.
4. 2D And QR Barcodes Able To Store More Data And Increases Interoperability.
First, the use of two-dimensional (2D) and quick response (QR) barcodes has significantly expanded the amount of information that can be conveyed in a barcode compared to traditional one-dimensional barcodes. Unlike tracking numbers that primarily serve as identifiers, 2D and QR barcodes can store more information. This can include such data elements as product specifications, batch numbers, expiration dates, and even manufacturing locations. For instance, 2D and QR barcodes allow for efficient tracking and tracing of shipments. By scanning these barcodes at various checkpoints along the supply chain, stakeholders can access real-time information about the location, condition, and status of goods.
Especially with QR barcodes, these barcodes promote interoperability by using open standards versus proprietary standards. As a result, they facilitate data exchange between more systems and devices to include off-the-shelf smartphones. For example, in warehouse management, these barcodes can be scanned by handheld devices or integrated into automated systems to streamline inventory management processes.
Now on the downside, even normal handling can damage a barcode. Also, a malfunctioning printer can inadvertently cause a barcode to become unreadable. Thus, training and maintenance is critical to minimize these errors.
5. IoT Devices Increases The Capabilities And Durability Of Tracking Technology.
IoT devices such as sensors and RFID tags enable real-time monitoring of goods throughout the supply chain. In many cases, IoT devices are replacing barcode solutions due to their durability, interoperability, and advanced features such as write-read capabilities.
For example, by attaching IoT devices to products or packaging, companies can track temperature conditions, monitor inventory levels, and ensure timely replenishment. As the cost of IoT devices such as passive RFID tags go down, logistics operations are leveraging this technology more and more over barcodes.
There are a wide-range of IoT devices and tracking technology solutions for IoT devices. Basically, IoT-based sensor solutions combine signals from multiple devices connected in a network. Additionally, these solutions enable two-way communication, data exchange, smart data collection, and autonomous control of assets. What’s more, RFID tags are either short-range passive tags measured in inches or active, long-range tags measured in feets. Lastly, there are many types of sensors to include proximity sensors, accelerometers, magnetic sensors, temperature sensors, and pressure sensors to name a few.
Also, depending on the need, there are IoT solutions used for both short-range and long-range communications. Short-range technologies include RFID, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) that are normally used for indoor asset tracking technologies. All of these short-range technologies except RFID can precisely track the location of an asset in the range of centimeters to meters. However, BLE has certain advantages over others due to its mature ecosystem, low cost, easy deployment, and low power consumption.
Other long-range communications technologies such as GPS and cellular, I’ll cover later in the article. For more details on IoT technologies, see my article, Internet Of Things Examples – Hidden Technology Automating Logistics, Wevover’s Smart Tracking Trends and Technologies, and Mapsted’s The Future of Asset Tracking.
6. Real-Time Global Positioning System (GPS) Tracking Technology.
Real-time GPS tracking allows companies to monitor the location of shipments and vehicles in real-time. GPS utilizes a network of satellites and complex algorithms to determine the location of an object with greater accuracy. For instance, with advanced GPS tracking systems, companies can track their vehicles’ exact location, monitor route deviations, and provide accurate estimated arrival times to customers.
With the rapid adoption of same-day delivery services, GPS tracking is now even becoming a key technology for retail delivery. On the other hand, GPS technology is expensive and consumes a lot of power. Hence, this can make GPS tech prohibited for many asset tracking solutions such as individual package tracking. See GeoForce’s Types Of Tracking Technology for more on GPS and other tracking technologies.
7. 5G Broadband Cellular Standard Empowers Real-Time Tracking Technology.
The integration of 5G technology enables faster and more reliable communication between devices, leading to improved supply chain visibility. For example, with 5G connectivity, companies can transmit large amounts of data in real-time, enabling seamless tracking and monitoring of shipments. Now beware, there are other types of cellular networks that are not as fast as 5G, such as GSM and LTE. So, for deploying a 5G tracking solution, you will need to verify 5G coverage or look at the trade-offs of using devices that are compatible with different cellular networks. This will be particularly important for global deployment spanning multiple countries and cellular networks.
8. Augmented Reality (AR) Enables Context For Better Tracking Of Asset Status And Visibility.
Augmented Reality (AR) technology provides more context for tracking the status of assets, offering improved visibility and efficiency. By overlaying digital information onto the physical world, AR enables real-time monitoring and updates on asset conditions, locations, and maintenance requirements.
For example, in the manufacturing industry, AR can be used to display relevant data and instructions directly onto machinery or equipment. Thus, maintenance technicians can then easily access information about the asset’s performance, upcoming maintenance schedules, and troubleshooting guides. As a result, this AR contextual information enhances tracking capabilities and allows for proactive maintenance, reducing downtime and optimizing asset utilization.
9. Proactive AI-Power Predictive Analytics Precludes Shipment Delays.
AI-powered predictive analysis helps identify potential risks and mitigate them proactively. For example, by analyzing historical data and external factors, AI algorithms can predict supply chain disruptions, allowing companies to take preventive measures to minimize their impact. Also, supply chain operations can set up proactive alerts based on predictive analytics to trigger actions to preclude chokepoints that will delay shipments. For example, a smart asset tracking system based on artificial intelligence can send alerts for upcoming maintenance and predict an asset’s condition. As a result, this increases efficiency and reduces costs.
For more information from Supply Chain Tech Insights, see articles on information technology.
Greetings! As an independent supply chain tech expert with 30+ years of hands-on experience, I take great pleasure in providing actionable insights to logistics leaders. My background includes implementing 100s of innovative solutions using emerging technologies and a data-centric development approach. I have also provided business intelligence (BI) solutions for 1,000s of shippers. For more about me, click here.