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A blog series of Technology-enabling Reusable Transportation Packaging

This blog series covers the application and use of enabling technologies that allow companies to gain valuable insights into reusable assets’ location, condition, and availability as they move through the supply chain from manufacturer to consumer.

The third of this series will share a brief introduction to Product Application and Tracking Solutions.

Product Application and Tracking Solutions

The application of tracking technologies for reusable assets across various supply chains can be necessary for minimizing disruptions, increasing resiliency, improving efficiencies, and lowering business costs. As goods move through the supply chain from the ‘Field’ to the ‘Home,’ it is becoming increasingly important to understand the location, condition, and availability of raw materials and goods moved. The use of identification and connectivity technologies assists in the visibility of technology-enabled reusable assets as they move through the supply chain.

By understanding the value of each of these use cases, a company can determine the holistic value across its entire supply chain and maximize the value of the technology investment. The benefits of technology-enabled reusable assets include the following:

  • Location: Goods Visibility
  • Condition: Product Damage Awareness, Quality Control, and Reduction
  • Regulatory: Food Safety Requirements
  • Availability: Loop Management of your Reusable Assets
  • Sustainability: Environmental, Social and Governance Impact
  • Governance: Financial
  • Customer: Improved Experience

Tracking Sensors, Equipment, Materials, and Hardware Solutions

When contemplating the use of technology-enabled returnable assets, there can be multiple considerations that a company needs to incorporate into its strategy, investment, planning, and implementation. These areas can include the following when considering application tracking solutions:

  • Frequency of Reporting
  • Redundancy
  • Cost vs. Value Delivered
  • Sanitization or Cleaning Process
  • Others including environmental, logistics, and handling of the enabled reusable asset.

Industry Solutions

As discussed in detail in the Technology-enabling Reusable Transportation Packaging whitepaper, A Smarter Technology-Driven Supply Chain with Reusable Packaging Systems,” there are various technology-based solutions can be applied to returnable assets. 

There are varying levels of adoption based on the industry use cases and cost vs. value delivered for specific companies’ use cases across their supply chains. They include:

  • Barcodes and Symbology for Identification and Tracking
  • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for Identification and Tracking
  • Brand Secure System for Tracking
  • Machine-to-machine (M2) and Internet of Things (IoT)

Key Considerations

When considering a technology-based solution integrated into a returnable asset, it is crucial to consider where and how the technology-based solution is attached to the asset based on the use case of the returnable asset. When a tag or technology device loses its tag, either directly or indirectly, the result is data loss, tracking loss, etc., of the asset and can result in the loss of the asset and the data it is providing to the company and partners. For example, using traditional bar code tags can cause up to 1 out of 10 asset tags to fall off or lose the ability to read the tag.

Some considerations need to include:

  • Material

A critical and often overlooked piece of information to address at the front end of any tracking project is the material an asset is made with. How various types of tracking will work can highly depend on the material used to create the reusable packaging – wood, metal, composite, and polypropylene will all interact with tracking differently. Ensure your technology-based solution considers the material used in the asset’s construction, ensuring it remains attached over the expected lifetime.

  • Design

Evaluate where the tag or technology will be applied to the reusable asset. Is it exposed to wear, puncture, or impact? Device placement on reusable packaging must be planned so that it is not damaged or destroyed by forklifts or manufacturing processes. Ideally, place the tag in a protected area of the asset that does not experience high levels of potential damage throughout its life. If the technology utilizes a battery power device, how will the battery be charged or replaced? Key questions include, whether it will require removal and what tools will be required.

  • Assembly

If the technology is attached mechanically to the reusable asset, how is it accessible for service? What tools will be required to remove or install the device?

  • Location

Assess device placement and concealment. When a usable packaging asset is stolen, highly visible devices may be destroyed to prevent the tracking of those assets.

  • Multi-modality

When reviewing the various technology asset tracking solutions based upon a company’s use case, often the use of various technologies should be applied to reach the desired outcome. This may include applying multiple tags on an asset or applying combinations of technologies on an asset. For example, using a data label (visual) that is RFID enabled(proximity) is often applied to reusable assets.

A more in-depth reference guide and case study examples for Technology-enabling Reusable Transportation Packaging, “A Smarter Technology-Driven Supply Chain with Reusable Packaging Systems,” is available on the RPA website.

This brief article and whitepaper are a cumulation of the Reusable Packaging Association’s (RPA) Technology Working Group (TWG) members and invited industry experts. The committee’s objective is to raise awareness of asset management and develop standards for common processes promoting the efficient movement, handling, visibility, and return of reusable packaging products.

Technology-enabled Reusable solutions, including identification and tracking solutions, can be found at the Reusables Marketplace, where both sustainable packaging and reusable packaging products and services from RPA member companies can be found.





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