With increasing globalization in almost every industry today, businesses need efficient logistics networks that integrate product sourcing and distribution, to support their complex and global supply chains. They realize that global logistic competence provides competitive power along with profitability and growth.
The growing complexity of the logistics networks has highlighted the importance of tracking and tracing a shipment to identify its position and track its journey. Any logistical event and/or exception that occurs during the course of the shipment's journey must be tracked and adequate re-active responses must be planned for. In the present era of just-in-time replenishments in the manufacturing industry, shipments that do not arrive on time could lead to production loss and customer dissatisfaction.
Cargo tracking is therefore rightly acknowledged as one of the core functions of the logistics industry. It has a very high impact on customer service and satisfaction in the industry. Today, cargo tracking involves multiple technologies and business domains and may be provided at various levels. For example, cargo can be tracked at shipment level, container level, or pack level, depending on the industry and business need.
At the point of delivery and at the distribution hubs, handheld scanners and wearable computers connected to the main system enable final-mile tracking and receipt confirmation. Tracking cargo over the high seas mainly utilizes satellite-based GPS systems, while bar codes/RFID can be used to track a shipment on land – within a warehouse or production plant.
Efficient tracking systems provide several benefits, such as:
- Increased efficiency and productivity, through the better utilization of people and equipment, reduced processing times, and better visibility
- Improved reliability and service, through better schedule adherence and increased operational flexibility
- Enhanced shipment and service integrity; that is, protection against theft and crime
- Improvement in quality of service offered, leading to greater customer satisfaction
- Better emergency response
Although there have been tremendous improvements in cargo tracking technologies, the industry still faces some challenges with the current systems. For example, many of these systems utilize proprietary tracking numbers defined by the individual provider of the tracking service. Further, tracking today is mainly at the container level, especially for cargo transported by ship, and therefore, we are not easily able to track the contents within a pack — for example, whether the box has been opened or damaged, or whether the contents are lost or stolen etc.
However, tracking technologies are constantly evolving, and future systems could include real-time tracking systems that support a wide range of 'tag' technologies including GPS, GPRS, RFID, and satellite communications that provide in-transit visibility and real-time asset management for greater accuracy in location and movement tracking. An end-to-end real-time tracking system that is inter-modal, integrated across the entire supply chain and which pinpoints the whereabouts of a product at the most granular level will be a boon to the logistics industry.