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Evolving Supply Chain Management: From Barcodes and RFID to BLE, UWB and GPS

  • Akansha Sharma
  • Feb 24, 2024
  • RFID
Evolving Supply Chain Management Barcodes, RFID,  NFC, BLE Beacons, IoT, UWB RTLS, and GPS

"The supply chain industry is continuously evolving and transforming with the integration of various modern day technologies such as RFID, NFC, BLE, QR Codes, GPS, etc."

In this technology-driven era, the evolution of supply chain management and visibility has been nothing short of remarkable. From the humble beginnings of barcodes to the advanced capabilities of UWB, GPS, RFID and BLE beacons, businesses have witnessed a drastic shift in how they track and trace their consignments, whether in the warehouses or during transportation. Use of these modern AIDC, IoT and GPS tracking technologies has transformed the way businesses ensure end-to-end supply chain visibility and unlock higher efficiency and order fulfillment. 

In this blog post we delve into the fascinating journey of supply chain visibility innovations, exploring the use of various technologies, from 1D and 2D barcodes to RFID, NFC, BLE beacons, UWB, GPS and more.

Barcodes: The First Step Towards Item-level Visibility

Barcodes were the first significant step towards improving item-level tracking and supply chain visibility. Introduced in the 1970s, barcodes revolutionized inventory management by providing a unique identifier for each product. These simple yet powerful black-and-white lines contained product information that could be scanned using barcode readers.

As the use of barcodes became more widespread, companies began to realize the potential for automating various supply chain processes. Barcodes enabled faster and more accurate inventory tracking, reducing human errors and streamlining operations. With the ability to quickly scan and record product information digitally, businesses could now monitor stock levels, track shipments, and identify potential bottlenecks in the supply chain without wasting valuable employee hours and labor. The productivity rose significantly and offered a higher degree of customer fulfillment. However, the barcoding technology had its limitations. They required line-of-sight scanning, which meant that each barcode had to be in direct view of the scanner. Low scan rate and errors due to damaged barcode labels was another significant issue that became a bottleneck.

RFID Technology: Advancing Supply Chain Management

To overcome the limitations of barcodes, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology emerged as the next breakthrough in supply chain management. Unlike barcodes, which rely on visual line of sight scanning, RFID tags use radio waves to transmit data wirelessly sans a direct line of sight, from a distance. 

Another problem that RFID solved is the limited data storage capability that barcodes offered. RFID tags include a microchip and an antenna that can be connected to products or packaging. The use of RFID chips allowed the warehouse managers to store unique product details on each RFID labels. These tags can easily communicate with RFID readers, which capture and relay the information from the RFID tags to a central RFID warehouse management system. With RFID, this ability to track and trace items in real-time revolutionized supply chain management, improving efficiency and reducing costs to a great extent. As an advanced AIDC technology, it brought several advantages to supply chain visibility, eliminating the need for manual scanning, which saved time and reduced human error.

With RFID, businesses gained the ability to monitor inventory levels, track assets, and detect unauthorized access in real-time, unlocking a higher degree of item visibility and order fulfillment. 

NFC technology: Enabling Seamless Communication

Near-field communication (NFC) technology took supply chain visibility a step further by enabling seamless communication between devices. NFC is a short-range wireless communication technology operating at a 13.56 MHz center frequency (Fc) that allows for contactless data exchange between two NFC-enabled devices. It operates nearby, typically within 10 cm or less, making it ideal for applications such as mobile payments, access control, and inventory tracking.

NFC tags, similar to RFID tags, contain a microchip and an antenna. These tags can be attached to products, pallets, or even shelves, enabling businesses to track and monitor inventory with ease. NFC technology facilitates quick and secure data exchange, allowing for real-time visibility of product information and supply chain status.

With NFC-enabled devices, such as smartphones or tablets, employees can easily access product information, update inventory levels, and perform various supply chain tasks on the go. NFC also enables seamless collaboration between different stakeholders in the supply chain, facilitating efficient communication and decision-making.

BLE Beacons: Revolutionizing Supply Chain Visibility

While RFID and NFC technologies brought significant improvements to supply chain visibility, the emergence of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons took it to a whole new level. BLE beacons are small, battery-powered devices that transmit signals to nearby devices equipped with Bluetooth technology. These beacons can be placed strategically throughout a facility, providing precise location data and enhancing asset tracking capabilities.

BLE beacons for asset tracking offer several advantages over traditional tracking technologies. They have a longer range compared to NFC, operating in frequencies between 2.4 GHz and 2.483 GHz ISM, allowing for wider coverage and better accuracy. BLE beacons can also transmit data to multiple devices simultaneously, enabling real-time monitoring of inventory movements. With the ability to track assets within a few meters, businesses can optimize their supply chain operations, reduce inefficiencies, and minimize losses.

BLE beacons with supply chain visibility systems have revolutionized the logistics industry. Businesses can now monitor the location and condition of their inventory in real-time, ensuring timely delivery and preventing stockouts. BLE beacons also enable geofencing, which triggers alerts when assets enter or leave designated areas, enhancing security and preventing theft.

IoT: Supply Chain Management for Predictive Management
IoT devices such as sensors, RFID tags, and BLE beacons allow for real-time tracking and monitoring of commodities across the supply chain. These devices capture data on location, temperature, humidity, and other important aspects, allowing stakeholders to gain actionable insights to improve inventory management, reduce loss, and maintain quality compliance. IoT also enables predictive maintenance of machinery and equipment, which reduces downtime and improves operational efficiency.

UWB RTLS: Efficient Supply Chain Management and Tracking
UWB RTLS technology offers highly accurate indoor positioning and tracking capabilities, use frequencies from 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz, a band more than 7 GHz wide. surpassing traditional RFID and Wi-Fi-based systems. With UWB-enabled tags and anchors deployed throughout facilities, warehouses, and distribution centers, companies can precisely monitor the movement of assets and inventory in real-time. It enables more efficient workflows, reduces search times for misplaced items, and enhances overall inventory accuracy. UWB RTLS also supports automation and optimization of material handling processes, leading to cost savings and improved customer service.

GPS in Tracking the Supply Chain Management
GPS-enabled devices fitted in vehicles, containers, and shipments give real-time position information. The technology uses a network of 24 satellites orbiting in the exosphere (10k km) of the atmosphere allowing businesses to follow the flow of commodities over vast distances and across international borders. The visibility offered by GPS enables better route planning, fleet management, and delivery schedules, resulting in shorter lead times, cheaper transportation costs, and higher customer satisfaction. GPS-based analytics assist uncover inefficiencies in transportation networks, allowing for continual process improvement and sustainability initiatives.

Benefits of Supply Chain Visibility Technologies

The evolution of supply chain visibility technologies has brought numerous benefits to businesses worldwide. Here are some key advantages:

1. Enhanced inventory accuracy: With real-time tracking and monitoring, businesses can maintain accurate inventory levels, reducing the risk of stockouts or excess inventory.

2. Improved order fulfillment: Supply chain visibility technologies enable faster and more efficient order processing, leading to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
3. Streamlined operations: Automation and real-time data exchange streamline supply chain processes, reducing manual errors and increasing productivity.
4. Better demand forecasting: Accurate visibility of inventory levels and customer demand enables businesses to forecast demand more effectively, minimizing stockouts and overstocks.
5. Enhanced Security: Supply chain visibility technologies, such as BLE beacons, enable improved asset tracking and security, reducing the risk of theft or unauthorized access.
6. Cost savings: By saving costs by optimizing inventory management and streamlining operations, businesses can reduce costs associated with excess inventory, storage, and manual labor.

To conclude, supply chain visibility technologies have transformed the way businesses track and manage their inventory. From the early days of barcodes to the advanced capabilities of BLE beacons, each innovation has brought significant improvements in efficiency, accuracy, and customer satisfaction.

Frequently Asked Questions on Supply Chain Management and its Evolution

Q1) What is supply chain visibility, and why is it important?

Businesses must have visibility into their supply chain operations to optimize inventory management, improve efficiency, and enhance customer satisfaction.

Q2) What are barcodes, and how have they contributed to supply chain visibility?

Barcodes are optical machine-readable labels that contain information about the product, such as its SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) or serial number. Barcodes revolutionized supply chain visibility by enabling automated data capture and tracking of products throughout the supply chain, from manufacturing to retail.

Q3) What are the key benefits of adopting BLE beacons for supply chain visibility?

BLE beacons offer benefits such as real-time asset tracking, improved inventory accuracy, enhanced theft prevention, and streamlined logistics operations. They also enable businesses to implement location-based services and analytics, driving operational efficiency and cost savings.

Disclaimer: The information presented here is for general information purposes only and true to best of our understanding. Users are requested to use any information as per their own understanding and knowledge. Before using any of the information, please refer to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.

  • Created on Feb 20, 2024

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