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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 second of this series will share a brief introduction to product sensing and monitoring solutions.

Product Sensing and Monitoring Solutions

Technology-enabled returnable assets can provide insights and conditions of the physical goods during movements from one location to another. As goods move from raw material suppliers to manufacturers to retailers and potentially to the consumer, many steps and opportunities exist for goods to be damaged. This damage can occur from physical, temperature, impact, environmental exposure, etc. Using product sensing and monitoring solutions can play an essential role in reducing the damage to goods while being transported.

When applying asset monitoring solutions across your supply chain, you must consider the users that will benefit from understanding and acting on the monitored goods. Understanding the level of value delivered to your company, suppliers, and other supply chain partners is essential.

image of truck on road with asset tracking

The benefits of technology-enabled reusable assets for product sensing and monitoring can include the following use cases:

  • High-value or High-Risk Products (Loss Prevention and Operational Condition)
  • Food Safety, Quality Control, and Environmental Monitoring (Regulatory)
  • Safety, Security, Traceability (Regulatory)

When sensors are attached to reusable packaging, they can detect product performance or condition issues at the pallet or packaged unit level and alert stakeholders. Sensor data may also have implications for anticipated product life or identifying underlying patterns that increase the risk of loss.

Examples include using sensors with temperature-sensitive products such as perishable foods and pharmaceuticals allows companies to understand if critical thresholds have been reached. Understanding the product exposure history and anticipated product life expectancy can allow decision-makers to manage the affected merchandise proactively.

Likewise, shock/vibration sensors can be crucial in monitoring the shipment of other expensive and sensitive products, such as electronics. Such sensors can help identify the time and location of events that result in damage. Historical data can provide insights to logistics professionals regarding exposure patterns, allowing for further review and corrective action.

Sensor Equipment, Materials, and Hardware Solutions

A variety of M2M and IoT sensors are used in technology-enabled returnable assets. Sometimes they are standalone sensors and are often integrated into location-based tracking technologies on reusable assets. The most common sensor examples on technology-enabled reusable shipping assets include:

  • Temperature and humidity sensors
  • Accelerometers
  • Other sensors that may measure pressure, tilt, shock, etc.

Key Considerations

When considering one sensing-based technology solution over another, one should ask, “Why would you choose a specific solution?” Based on your targeted primary use case, there may be a wide variety of considerations, which include:

  • Primary Use Case Understanding

Ensure the team fully understands the targeted problem or use case before gravitating toward a particular technology-based solution. Taking the time to understand the challenges and goals of the application and sharing those with your technology partners will allow them to recommend the best path forward.

  • Sensor Data Frequency

When considering the use case, configure a sensor to address the risks specific to the use case while being mindful that increased communication frequency will deplete batteries sooner.

  • Monitoring as a Service

As the technologies used for product sensing and monitoring have matured, there are now multiple service-based monitoring technology solutions that companies can consider as an optional path forward versus purchase. Multiple reusable transport packaging companies provide this type of service-based solution for companies

  • Insights and Decision Making

Sensor monitoring is not just about the device but also ensuring that the platform allows the company to assess and manage the data. Insights play a critical role – to the extent it will make or break the implemented solution and the resulting ROI and payback. Predictive analytics come into play here for the different data users; on the floor, with management, with supply chain partners (suppliers and customers), and at a corporate level.

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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