Tracking pallets and trays at scale

Load carriers – unforeseen business critical items

A load carrier is a holder for any type of product or component that is used to carry one or multiple items throughout assembly. This is often a pallet or a box but it can also be a metal rack or a trolley. Load carriers themselves are usually not overly expensive but the cargo that they carry might have a significant value, especially if they move a newly manufactured product or a processed, value added component. For this reason it is often interesting to not only track movements but also track strokes and bumps that occur when moving the load carrier. Load carriers may often exist in thousands making most existing technologies involving wireless communication unsuitable for tracking load carriers.

At CargoBeacon we have developed our proximity location service to target this type of application. Perfect to track reusable load carriers used by internal logistics and operations.

Tracking pallets and trays at scale 1
Industrial load carriers for fork lift use

Why track your load carriers?

There are many reasons. But let’s look into at least three reasons that many of us can relate to - such as production disruptions, finding misplaced items and keeping track of the utilization rate

Reason 1 – Avoid production disruptions
By keeping track of load carriers you can make sure you don't run out of load carriers on places where needed. In example, if the pallet by the end of an assembly line is full and empty ones are missing someone needs to go look for a new one. If that someone is a worker along the assembly line the flow of assembly might stop. Unplanned stops are expensive. The effect is not only that fewer units will be produced but also that others workers before, after and along the assembly might be affected. With tight schedules and long order backlogs even small disruptions might affect end customers.

Reason 2 – Finding misplaced load carriers
We rarely find that load carriers themselves are targeted for theft. Nevertheless, load carriers are sometimes missing with the measure that they needs to be looked for. When this happens on a frequent basis more load carriers are ordered. In the end no one really knows how many load carriers that are needed and how many that really exists as there is no tracking of them.

Reason 3 – Understand rate of utilization
In all production facilities, you want to keep track of the utilization of your resources. This knowledge enables you to work with preventative maintenance and understand if more, or perhaps fewer, load carriers are needed for the business. With the help of different types of sensors it is possible to understand whether a certain load carrier carries a load or not. By understanding the rate of utilization you can work with Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) which is a Key Performance Indicator within lean and continuous improvements. Maybe you need less load carriers that you already have if you make some changes to the way you work.

Tracking pallets and trays at scale 2
An indoor load carrier - trolley often used in small part assembly

Solution for large scale tracking

Our solution is to attach a CargoBeacon tag to each load carrier and provide desired tracking using proximity and if needed precise location services. For smaller trays and trolleys an indoor tag that attaches using double adhesive is suitable. We can provide small tags with battery life for more than a year and and supporting both proximity and precise location tracking services.

For outdoor use we provide rugged tags that will run free from maintenance year after year. Whenever needed tags with more than 10 years of battery life can be provided.

Along with the tag a unique identifier is assigned to each load carrier. These identifiers are written in clear text on the load carrier and as well as digitally on a map. Just introducing digital identifiers for each load carrier is often a big step forward. These identifiers can be managed in an inventory database that might contain more information about each load carrier. This could be a "last seen" timestamp and position, data for last and next inspection etc.

So, what is wrong with GPS-trackers?

There is nothing wrong about GPS-trackers. It is sometimes even a better idea to attach a GPS tracker to the load carrier, for instance:

  • When you have high value load carriers and theft is of concern it makes good sense to consider some type of tracker that we group into connected location devices.
  • When volumes are relatively low so you can afford the total cost of ownership. GPS-tracker hardware is more complex with a larger battery which yields a higher unit cost. Maintenance costs are also higher as they come with a network subscription that has a daily cost and needs management. Besides that more frequent battery replacements can also be expected.
  • If you only need updates once or a few times per day. GPS-trackers that provide years of battery life does not provide real-time tracking. With BLE-tags updates can be provided on demand, even several times per second. If you don't need frequent updates during the workday a low-power tracker device might be worth to consider.

When being used outdoors a CargoBeacon BLE tag can emulate a low cost GPS-tracker but with an extremely good battery life. For indoor environments traditional GPS-trackers does not even work well as they are dependent on line-of-sight to GPS satellites. Beacons, or tags, provide incredible real time position accuracy using the precise location solution.

Result - no way going back

After introducing a Real Time Location System where load carriers are located indoors and/or outdoors there is no return. The information quickly becomes an important piece of the puzzle laid by managers in quality and operations to work with continuous improvements and to keep production efficient.

In cases where staff actively spend time searching for load carriers and in cases where production disruptions occur, we can be sure to find a Return On Investment. The investment cost primarily depends on the desired resolution, or accuracy, required.

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Modified: January 31, 2022

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