Tracking pallets and trays at scale

Load carriers, such as pallets, trays and boxes are often used by many industries and might be counted for in thousands of units. With large amounts keeping track of them has not really been feasible - until now.

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 the assembly. This is often a pallet or a box but it can also be a metal rack, a trolley or you name it.. 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 the CargoBeacon Track cloud 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 in places where needed. In an 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 works with assembly the flow 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 those load carriers targeted for theft. Nevertheless, load carriers are sometimes missing and someone needs to go searching. 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 really exist as there is no tracking of them.

Reason 3 – Understand the 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 fewer load carriers than 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 tag to each load carrier and provide tracking according to the customer's needs. For smaller trays and trolleys an indoor tag that attaches using double adhesive is suitable. We can provide small tags with a battery life of years and with the accuracy needed.

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 the last and next inspection etc.

So, what is wrong with a classic GPS tracker?

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, 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 do not provide real-time tracking. With IPS-technology 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 considering.

When being used outdoors an IPS-tag can emulate a low-cost GPS tracker but with extremely good battery life. For indoor environments, traditional GPS-trackers do not even work as they are dependent on line-of-sight to GPS satellites. Using IPS-tags and our precise tracking technology you may even track your load carriers with sub-meter accuracy and several updates per second for years.

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: February 1, 2023

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