Whether it’s managing a small warehouse for an online store, route planning for a fleet of delivery trucks, keeping track of produce in a packing centre or monitoring healthcare equipment inside a hospital, the benefits of digitised logistics are clear. Here is our guide to choosing the best solution for your business, as shared with ITWeb.
Is it time to digitise your logistics?
If you and your employees are drowning in paperwork, you are unclear about your stock levels or where your assets are, or you are constantly dealing with shipment errors and returns, it may be time for a digital solution.
For those embarking on this journey, the myriad of options and the apparent complexity can be daunting. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Many asset tracking solutions start out as simple systems to address a very specific problem, and can be expanded and scaled as the business needs evolve.
The basic elements
A system that tracks the movement of goods or assets has three basic elements:
- The tag or label that is attached to the item
- A stationary or mobile device to read the information on the tag or label
- The software that records and interprets the data
The cost of your solution will depend on the combined costs of these three items, and the scale of the solution that you need.
Two technologies that are typically used are either based on barcode labels or on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. Barcoded items need to be manually scanned one-by- one, and the barcode reader needs line of sight to the barcode. Barcode-based solutions can be some of the easiest and most cost-effective to implement. An RFID system needs RFID tags, an antenna, and an RFID reader. Depending on the type of RFID tags and antennas used, RFID-tagged items can be recognised at varying distances often without tags being visible to the reader, and multiple items can be identified at once.
Barcode labels and RFID tags
Barcodes are classified as either 1D, like the barcodes on the back of your cereal box, or 2D, like the one on your driver’s license. 2D barcodes can store more information and can be encrypted, which requires a more sophisticated reader.
RFID tags emit radio frequency signals and have a built-in memory, so events can be logged, or a status can be stored, allowing that information to travel with the object. They are broadly classified into three groups:
- Low Frequency (LF) tags can only be read at a short distance, but their signals can travel through liquids, so they are often used for tracking livestock. Your pet’s ‘microchip’ is actually not a microchip but an LF RFID tag.
- High Frequency (HF) tags are used in Near Field Communications (NFC) protocols, for example in your office access card or your tap-to-pay bank card.
- Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) are either active, with a built-in battery and continuously emitting RF signals, or passive, needing activation by the RF antenna but requiring no battery. Active tags can be recognised up to 50m away, while passive tags typically have a 2-15m range. There are an astonishing variety of tags, they can cost as little as R1 each, and they can be used to tag everything from construction equipment, to laundry, to marathon runners.
Readers and antennae
Barcode readers are not only the supermarket’s cabled scanners that we are all familiar with. The device that your office park’s security guard uses to scan your driver’s license has a built-in barcode scanner, capable of reading and decrypting a 2D barcode. There are a variety of options to suit every pocket, and most of these devices have the added benefit of rugged design.
RFID systems require one or more antennas and a controlling reader that powers the antennas and relays signals to the tags. These are sometimes integrated into one device, and readers can be fixed or mobile with a few options for antenna configurations depending on your specific needs.
Some handheld devices can read both barcodes and RFID tags. You can also use a sled reader attachment to give a device such as the C66 (which can read barcodes and HF RFID) the capability to read UHF RFID tags as well.
Software applications make all the information that is collected about your barcoded or tagged objects visible and useful to you. Most of our clients opt for a customised version of an existing platform, which is both cost-effective and designed to suit your specific needs. This can be a stand-alone programme or integrated with your current systems. Cloud-based software is increasingly popular: it allows you to access the information from anywhere and as many mobile readers have 3G and/or WIFI connectivity, information about the objects being scanned can instantly be uploaded.
Digitised logistics reduces human error, saves time, improves security, and gives you a real-time view of what’s going on. If you need an expert advisor to help digitise your logistics, contact Osiris Technical Systems on firstname.lastname@example.org.