The global logistics industry generates $9.1 Trillion dollars in revenue. The global Third Party Logistics (3PL) industry generates $750 Billion in revenue as a part of that figure. Further, the U.S. trucking industry alone generates approximately $700 Billion in revenue. Air and sea cargo industries generate $62 Billion each. These are huge numbers that represent the movement of every good across the globe and the reason we are seeing the rise of Logistics Beacons as a way to increase logistics and supply chain visibility.
In the most simple of terms, any product that is produced – or the raw goods used to produce it, are moved through some sort of logistics network. There is no larger industry in the world than logistics. And there is not a more important industry to the world than logistics. Food, medicine, technology, fuel, building materials, waste – the very basic inputs and outputs of any modern society are dependent upon logistics.
Technology has always played a critical part within logistics. Over the past two decades, there have been several technologies that played an important role with respect to increased supply chain visibility. Two of those were bar codes and GPS. There were also technologies that over promised and under delivered, such as RFID.
The Limitations of Logistics Tracking Gives Rise to Logistics Beacons
Each of these technologies provided visibility of a single item flowing through a logistics network. GPS was and is a pro-active technology providing location of a truck, train, plane or container. Barcodes on the other hand, were reactive technologies and often operated at the product level. RFID technology can operate at both a reactive or proactive (passive versus active) manner, and can be paired at a transportation asset or product level.
But RFID fell short for a myriad of reasons, most of which could be detailed in a stand-alone research paper. For simplicity sake, let’s just state that RFID infrastructure (gates and readers) are expensive and cumbersome to deploy. This cost and difficulty became a natural antagonist to the desired ubiquity of the technology. In addition, the cost of active tags combined with the “dumb” (e.g. no power or memory) of passive tags further plagued adoption within logistics. Thus, RFID is now more synonymous with inventory management.
Today, we know roughly where a product is or has been in terms of single fixed points in time—two dimensions if you will (where and when). But, what logistics does not know today is what that asset or product was around, flowed through or handled by. You may know that a shipment arrived at a location. You may not know that it was moved through docking bay 7, handled by forklift 123, driven by employee ABC, and placed in location XYZ at 1:12 PM. Or, if you do, you have to cobble that information together from six different sources – many of which are not IoT-based in terms of data integration.
But much of this can and will change with the introduction of Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) technology in the form of Logistics Beacons. A beacon is an independent, low-cost device that is built upon the latest Bluetooth® standards. These devices are self-powered and require no data plan to provide proximity services. They broadcast their presence to other nearby devices, such as smart phones, tablets, computers, and sensors.
All that is required is an application to be installed on a device. This device (say a smartphone) can then approximate the distance between it and the beacon by listening for and hearing its signal. Logistics Beacons can be tuned to broadcast various distances by adjusting power output. As the device hears the beacon, it records that it is near it. When the device leaves the area, the event can also be recorded. In simple terms, this application of logistics beacons can provide arrival and departure without the need for GPS.
Tagging Moving Cargo with Logistics Beacons
But more importantly, logistics shipments are moving through defined spaces. They’re being moved by machinery. They ride in trucks, on trains, or in plane cargo holds. They arrive and depart from warehouses and distribution centers. Each of these places or things can be tagged with logistics beacons. When coupled with a Bluetooth® enabled sensor in the shipment, your operations will know what its shipments passed through and interacted with throughout the supply chain. Knowing what your cargo interacted with allows you to understand its environment. Knowing its environment allows you to zero in on root causes and operational efficiencies.
Traditional GPS can provide you a simple dot on the map. It can’t very effectively tell you what it’s around when it comes to a logistics network. Logistics Beacons cost just a few dollars and can be installed in a matter of minutes and an operation avoids expensive readers and infrastructure like RFID. Instead, your operation can leverage the over 3 billion Bluetooth® enabled devices already in the market today.
Visit www.logisticsbeacon.com and cargosense.com to learn more about logistics beacons and how to obtain better logistics oversight.