Companies Testing IoT System When Goods Are ‘On the Road’

By Claire Swedberg

A waste-management firm and a high-value goods logistics provider are piloting a solution from Barcoding Inc., using CalAmp sensor devices and tags as well as software to capture and manage data about goods—even when they are in transit—via a combination of cellular, Wi-Fi, BLE and other technologies.

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Two companies have begun testing a new Internet of Things (IoT)-based solution from Barcoding Inc., leveraging technology from telematics provided by CalAmp that aims to fill the gaps in traditional RFID-based supply chain visibility—namely, when goods are in transit. Barcoding’s Active Asset Tracker (AAT) solution employs CalAmp’s sensor technology—the SC1004 sensor device and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) enabled iOn Tag—to allow Barcoding’s customers to view, in real time, the locations and conditions of assets and cargo, even in places where RFID technology infrastructure isn’t feasible.

The U.S. companies currently testing the technology are a waste-disposal organization and a high-value goods logistics company. Both firms have asked to remain unnamed.

Barcoding Inc.’s AAT solution traditionally leverages active RFID-based sensors that transmit data regarding the locations of the goods and assets to which they are attached, explains Tom O’Boyle, Barcoding Inc.’s director of RFID. The solution helps companies, such as manufacturers, logistics providers and retailers, manage the movement, storage and condition of goods passing through facilities. However, once RFID-tagged goods are loaded onto a truck, and until they are received at another location with the necessary RFID receivers or other location-based technology infrastructure, they are not visible to the software.

As a telematics company, Irvine, Calif.-based CalAmp offers solutions that capture data about shipments from smart sensor devices and tags far beyond RFID receivers. Its customers use the CalAmp solution for safety and compliance, as well as for supply chain visibility, and include pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers and retailers of perishable foods. The CalAmp SC1004 tag comes with a built-in sensor, as well as GPRS, GPS and Wi-Fi functionality, in addition to the iOn Tag’s BLE feature. In that way, the device continues to forward data about its location and environment, wherever it may be, using cellular connections.

With the new solution, data transmitted by the SC1004 and iOn Tags is captured on CalAmp’s SC iOn Command Portal. The software analyzes the data and reports actionable business intelligence back to the user. For instance, says Jeff Newman, CalAmp’s VP of business development, the CalAmp SC1004 device can be placed inside a cargo container. When combined with the iOn Tag smart sensors at the pallet level, information including temperature and humidity, as well as shock or light, are gathered to better capture incidents, such as a fallen box or pallet, or the opening of a container (based on the presence of light).

The software stores the historical data, provides analytics and then, through integration, can forward this information to Barcoding’s AAT software, which displays that data and can alert the company’s management. Users, Newman says, “can create a whole set of perimeters around the cargo and create a history of environmental conditions,” for instance, as well as its real-time location.

CalAmp’s SC1004 and iOn Tagscan also leverage the BLE functionality to create a parent-child relationship for tagged containers, pallets and products moving through a supply chain. For instance, a “parent” SC1004 tag can be affixed inside a container, and the iOn Tags can be attached to pallets or cartons of goods loaded within that container. In that way, the parent SC1004 can forward data to the server, including the ID numbers of its child tags and the locations and conditions reported by each. If an item were removed from the container, the child iOn Tag would no longer be detected.

The CalAmp software forwards data to the AAT software, which can be provided via Barcoding’s portal known as RFID RealView. Thus, if an unexpected or unauthorized event were to occur, the AAT software could forward an alert to the appropriate party.

The CalAmp software also enables users to set up dedicated transit paths known as shipping lanes, Newman says. Those lanes represent a set of rules indicating where a particular product is intended to go, where it may stop and for how long. If a violation occurs, such as a tag transmission report from a location that deviates from the path, or an unscheduled delay, an alert can be issued.

Barcoding Inc. has already been offering its AAT solution with RFID to enable its customers to track the locations of goods when they are in warehouses, storage yards or stock rooms. Typically, RFID readers are deployed at these locations to bring data not only about the IDs of tagged goods at a specific location, but, in some cases, the conditions surrounding them, such as temperature and humidity levels. But in recent months, the company began working on a way to expand its solution to cover the in-transit portion of a business’s supply chain, when RFID readers aren’t feasible.

In the case of the waste-disposal based pilot, which is taking place in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, CalAmp SC1004 sensor devices are being applied to each rail container loaded with garbage destined for a receiving station. Another SC1004 device is attached to the chassis on which the rail container is loaded. Each of the two devices can transmit data via a cellular or Wi-Fi connection, depending on the network that is available at any specific location, thereby providing 100 percent coverage across the supply chain.

Users can store data in the software linked to the container, such as whether that container is full or empty, where it originated, what type of waste is being transported within it and its destination. The company is tracking where the containers and chassis are located, when and where they are separated, and where they end up after the container has been emptied. There are six points of interest, O’Boyle explains, such as loaded stations or disposal sites, where the data is collected.

The second pilot, O’Boyle says, is being conducted on the U.S. East Coast by a high-value goods logistics company whose products can be valued up to $100,000. Even the loss of a single product, therefore, can be significantly expensive. Thus, the technology is being used to track where the palletized products are located at any given time, as well as where they are delivered.

The company is applying SC1004 devices to pallets and storing parameters in the software for each tagged item, such as the type of product and its manufacture date, as well as its delivery location. The iOn Tag smart sensors transmit to the SC1004 device, which forwards their location periodically as the product remains in transit to a customer. If it stops at a specific location, that data is identified and stored in the software. If it remains at a specific location long enough to determine that a product was delivered, that location information can be compared against the scheduled delivery address in order to confirm that the item has been properly deposited at the customer site.

Both pilots are expected to conclude after four to six months, O’Boyle says. While they both represent new customers for Barcoding Inc., he notes, the company is presently in discussions with many of its existing customers already using the AAT solution to add the CalAmp-based functionality to track goods in transit.