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Real-Time Cargo Tracking Solves Holiday Shipping Challenges

  • December 03, 2020
  • Jeff Clark
  • Reading Time: 3 minutes
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What’s in the truck? Tags and smart devices let retailers keep their eyes on cargo as it moves to and from distribution centers. (Credit: valtron84/Shutterstock)

For retailers and carriers, real-time shipment visibility is more critical than ever this holiday shopping season.

The impact of COVID-19 is reshaping holiday buying, with the usual crush of in-store shopping giving way to more click-and-ship purchasing. Pent-up desire to spend discretionary income may push mouse clicks even higher.

Rather than fill store back rooms to prepare for heavy foot traffic, many retailers are transporting more inventory to regional distribution centers (DCs), where it can be moved quickly to smaller warehouses or sent directly to consumers. For carriers, that means orchestrating the flow of thousands or millions of shipments into and out of DCs.

Real-time cargo tracking enabled by up-to-the minute shipment visibility at the carton, pallet and package level can help them bring order to chaos.

The value of real-time visibility 

Telematics units in trucks tell you where the trucks are but not what’s on them. By affixing non-disposable or disposable smart tracking devices or inexpensive, multimodal smart tags to cartons, pallets and packages, you can know not only a truck’s location but also its cargo, and even whether part of the shipment has gone missing en route.

A Bluetooth reader at the door of a DC or warehouse will read a tag such as the SC iOn™ Tag, a Bluetooth proximity sensor, and let you know the carton or pallet has arrived. Attaching tracking devices or smart tags to shipments supports tracking across multiple carriers.

With this level of real-time visibility, you can manage shipment delivery times and send notifications if a shipment is delayed or even redirect the shipment if demand shifts. If a shipment can’t be located within the DC or warehouse, you can verify whether it was delivered as scheduled.

While the trailer is en route, it might as well be a black box for all you can see inside it— unless the trailer itself is equipped with a telematics device. Such devices can read the smart tags or tracking devices on the cargo inside the trailer and send an alert if a carton, pallet or package goes out of range.

If a carton with a tag or tracking device disappears from the trailer when the driver breaks for a burger at the truck stop, for example, an alert will go out and the authorities can be summoned immediately, before those hot-ticket video game consoles or high-end cosmetics are gone for good. An alert can also be sent if the trailer gets separated from the truck outside of a scheduled delivery path.

For further protection from breaches, sensors that detect light can be placed inside crates. If a crate is opened, the shipper can know right away.

Shipping sensitive cargo

Real-time cargo monitoring is especially crucial for products that are vulnerable to damage from vibrations or environmental conditions. If you’re shipping cargo that’s sensitive to temperature, for example, whether it’s cartons of once-a-year oranges or the season’s must-have electronics, smart sensor tags can alert you in real time to any environmental compliance breaches. If sensitive cargo begins to veer out of the required temperature or humidity range, a real-time alert may enable you to reroute the truck to a closer destination and save the shipment.

Sensors can also detect shock and, for goods that must remain upright at all times, tilt. If cargo has been mishandled during shipment, these sensors will tell the story.

Benefits of a vertically integrated solution

In a vertically integrated supply chain ecosystem, shipment data can be fed into management tools such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution or transportation management system (TMS). The result is a single, reliable source of information that lets you better understand how your supply chain is performing and where you may need to make improvements.

A vertically integrated supply chain solution is simpler to install and configure compared to using devices and software from different providers. It can also overlay shipment information with in-cab telematics data to provide additional information about what happened during a shipment journey. That way, you know if the driver took a wrong turn that delayed a shipment or had to brake hard and damaged the cargo.

The increase in e-commerce will continue to challenge retailers and shippers for the foreseeable future. For those looking to gain additional control and act more nimbly during next year’s peak shipping season, real-time cargo tracking through a combination of sensor tags, smart tracking devices and telematics can deliver the goods.

Learn about mix and match solution options to meet your shipment visibility needs.

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