The global logistics industry generates $9.1 Trillion dollars in revenue. The global Third Party Logistics (3PL) industry generates $750 Billion in revenue as a part of that figure. Further, the U.S. trucking industry alone generates approximately $700 Billion in revenue. Air and sea cargo industries generate $62 Billion each. These are huge numbers that represent the movement of every good across the globe and the reason we are seeing the rise of Logistics Beacons as a way to increase logistics and supply chain visibility.
In the most simple of terms, any product that is produced – or the raw goods used to produce it, are moved through some sort of logistics network. There is no larger industry in the world than logistics. And there is not a more important industry to the world than logistics. Food, medicine, technology, fuel, building materials, waste – the very basic inputs and outputs of any modern society are dependent upon logistics.
Technology has always played a critical part within logistics. Over the past two decades, there have been several technologies that played an important role with respect to increased supply chain visibility. Two of those were bar codes and GPS. There were also technologies that over promised and under delivered, such as RFID.
Each of these technologies provided visibility of a single item flowing through a logistics network. GPS was and is a pro-active technology providing location of a truck, train, plane or container. Barcodes on the other hand, were reactive technologies and often operated at the product level. RFID technology can operate at both a reactive or proactive (passive versus active) manner, and can be paired at a transportation asset or product level.
But RFID fell short for a myriad of reasons, most of which could be detailed in a stand-alone research paper. For simplicity sake, let’s just state that RFID infrastructure (gates and readers) are expensive and cumbersome to deploy. This cost and difficulty became a natural antagonist to the desired ubiquity of the technology. In addition, the cost of active tags combined with the “dumb” (e.g. no power or memory) of passive tags further plagued adoption within logistics. Thus, RFID is now more synonymous with inventory management.
Today, we know roughly where a product is or has been in terms of single fixed points in time—two dimensions if you will (where and when). But, what logistics does not know today is what that asset or product was around, flowed through or handled by. You may know that a shipment arrived at a location. You may not know that it was moved through docking bay 7, handled by forklift 123, driven by employee ABC, and placed in location XYZ at 1:12 PM. Or, if you do, you have to cobble that information together from six different sources – many of which are not IoT-based in terms of data integration.
But much of this can and will change with the introduction of Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) technology in the form of Logistics Beacons. A beacon is an independent, low-cost device that is built upon the latest Bluetooth® standards. These devices are self-powered and require no data plan to provide proximity services. They broadcast their presence to other nearby devices, such as smart phones, tablets, computers, and sensors.
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