June 2013 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Sensor-based Logistics: Monitoring Shipment Vital Signs in Real Time

Tags: Air Cargo, Logistics I.T., Temperature-Sensitive Goods

Chris Swearingen is Marketing Manager for SenseAware, FedEx, 901-434-4302

The global supply chain's rapid growth is encouraging companies to look for new ways to improve efficiency, cut waste, and enhance supply chain dependability to deliver a superior customer experience. One tool for accomplishing these goals is sensor-based logistics (SBL).

SBL provides full visibility inside shipments while they're in motion, helping to ensure they reach their destination in the customer's anticipated condition. It is an emerging logistics model in which multiple sensors transmit cargo data to multiple partners, enabling them to collaborate and respond to unexpected situations.

The sensor devices detect current shipment location and environmental variables such as temperature, light exposure, relative humidity, and barometric pressure, then wirelessly communicate these variables to the shipper. Accompanying management software displays, stores, and analyzes the data.

Keeping Customers Informed

Using GPS technology, SBL allows shippers to create customized, location-based alerts called geofences to inform them if a shipment deviates from its route, and whether it is scheduled for timely delivery.

A range of industries can benefit from SBL. For example, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies shipping items that are either very difficult or impossible to replace—such as tissue specimens for clinical trials and/or diagnostic testing—need the environmental variables of these packages carefully maintained while in transit. By monitoring factors such as light exposure, temperature, and humidity, an SBL solution could save the specimens from damage.

Another life science scenario involves hospitals transporting irreplaceable tissue biopsies and bone marrow samples. The samples have a 48-hour window of variability, so successful delivery in the desired condition within this timeframe is imperative. Based on certain parameters, hospitals can receive personalized alerts to intervene, or reroute a shipment if necessary to preserve the samples.

SBL systems can also prove beneficial for the aerospace industry, especially when a plane is rendered Aircraft on Ground (AOG). Missing or delayed repair parts can result in substantial part replacement or rush delivery costs. AOG personnel using SBL software can actively monitor the location of critical aircraft parts from origin to destination.

Using customer-established geofences, AOG personnel receive constant location updates and arrival notifications that provide immediate visibility so they can be prepared to either reroute the part or employ the necessary personnel to shuttle the part to the plane.

Increasing Recovery Time

Keeping customers informed extends past simple package delivery, however. By receiving continuous data while shipments are en route, users can take advantage of intervention services such as re-icing cold chain shipments, inspecting and repackaging damaged goods, or involving law enforcement to pursue stolen products. Instead of reacting to supply chain faults, SBL places control in the hands of the management team to proactively avoid these issues.

SBL systems give users the control and insight needed to make better business decisions and stay ahead of the competition in a fast-paced and ever-changing marketplace. This, in turn, can lead to a superior customer experience and higher profit margin.