No longer a luxury, interest in tracking solutions expands in response to regulatory and strategic pressures. Providers offer a wealth of experience, resources and services to help owners of reusable packaging profit from successful reusable packaging management.
When CHEP-TRAC officially launched at the PACK EXPO 2015 trade show in September 2015, Keith Schall was gratified by the pulse of positive response. “This is something we need and I’m glad it is finally available,” was the message he heard from visitors to their booth. In the months after the launch, Schall reports that CHEP-TRAC has already generated a “very deep pipeline of leads, and some very big customers.”
While the solution was previously offered informally, the launch signaled another move by Brambles to broaden its already expansive reach in the reusable packaging and pallet sector. “This is something we do every day – supply chain and logistics, so why don’t we offer it up to people who have their own containers or assets,” Schall said, summarizing the company’s thought process. In the past, tracking software was offered principally as an element of the CHEP per-trip rental model.
“We are finding that there are a lot of customer-owned pools out there that aren’t being managed very well, and they need help,” Schall explained. “Where traditionally we would say, ‘Let us buy your assets and manage them for you’, we are now able to offer an extended solution for those who own their own packaging, meaning they can use our software and our process to help manage their own fleet.”
While the breadth of resources and experience around the CHEP-TRAC offering gives it an immediate presence, other providers in the space are also reporting positive results as well. Wave Reaction, known for its ongoing relationship with John Deere, has also reported new wins. “Recently we have expanded into automotive,” said Charles Daoud, Director – U.S. Development for Wave Reaction
“This is the time when RFID is really starting to click in,’ Daoud stated. “People are seeing the benefit “
Software providers create solutions that are based for reusable packaging users, as well as for commercial pooling providers. iLogic, for example, recently completed a deal to provide its masLogic™ reusable assets management system to Moscow, Russia-based Unipooling LLC. Unipooling in order to optimize its pallet management services in that country.
Look for Providers with Deep Experience
More than just basic asset tracking is required for many applications, thus underscoring the need for experienced providers, as well as ones who can offer a range of services. “Traditionally, technology companies come in and lay the technology on top of the application, and they don’t really understand the ‘on the floor’ process and the change management involved with respect to the warehouse, the drivers, or other groups involved in the process,” Schall noted.
“We are in these facilities today. We have boots on the ground, and that is how our core competency has developed.”
“Companies are increasingly looking beyond hardware or software to a combination of hardware, software and the support to make it happen,” added Daoud of Wave Reaction. He finds that more clients are looking for someone to come in and manage the project for them every step in the process. “That is really the change in the industry they were looking for. It is so much easier to get it up and keep it running because someone with experience is looking after it.”
It is not a universal trend, however. Daoud emphasized that project management requirements of the client can depend on their capabilities and corporate culture, as well as the details of the specific application. While some clients are looking for onsite project management, others prefer to manage the implementation themselves.
When looking for a provider of reusable asset tracking solutions, be sure to look for someone with relevant experience. iLogic, for example, has provided software for the reusable pallet systems for 30 years. “We have implemented reusable assets solutions for national container pools, international brokerage companies as well as corporations in various countries,” stated Victor Cheng, CEO. “Our product masLogic is an encapsulation of our decades of experience as well as the continuous input from industry professionals.” (All vendors listed in this article are extremely experienced in reusable packaging and/or pallet tracking solutions)
Ease of Use Important for Large Logistics Client
Ease of use is another important consideration in software selection. Such was the case in the selection of Foxwood’s Kontrol reusable asset software by a large global logistics company. Foxwood assisted in the establishment of that customer’s new business supplying reusable folding large containers to major automotive and industrial clients, for the shipment of components to assembly and manufacturing plants.
Kontrol has been selected to power their “packaging management system”, providing supply-chain visibility and control of each serially-numbered container, end-to-end, reported Angus Wolfendale, Managing Director of Foxwood. Currently, Kontrol is tracking containers across Europe, Russia and Indo-China and South Africa, with other areas coming on-line soon.
Kontrol was selected because it met the client’s key criteria:
- Design based on sound understanding of supply chain logistics
- Ease and speed of deployment
- Internet accessibility across all browsers
- Ease of use, minimal training and support
- Comprehensive functionality
- Fee structure aligned to the client’s commercial model
Locations can order replenishment supplies of containers as and when required. The client has visibility of container stocks at each supply-chain location and a complete location history for each unique container ID. Kontrol is handling the charge processing and providing every location with transaction-level visibility of these charges, in real-time.
Frequent feedback from end users emphasizes Kontrol’s ease-of-use, Wolfendale reported, which significantly reduces the training requirement, especially for those users based overseas. After just a five-minute online walkthrough, users are up and running. “Kontrol is designed to be a simple point and click process, with uncluttered screens and options restricted according to business rules,” he said. “This minimizes data input errors resulting in a clean database and minimal support requirements.”
Foxwood has setup key contacts in Melbourne and Seattle to extend the reach of our services, with Dr. Garth Wolfendale coming on board in Seattle and Zoe Rowley joining the company in Australia.
Technology Agnostic Solutions Offer Adaptiveness
While there are common core elements to tracking solutions, CHEP-TRAC’s Schall stated, every solution is different to a degree. “Everybody does barcoding. People are hearing about RFID, but there can still be some hesitancy around it. I think you need a solution which is technology agnostic.” By this, he means that the software can input data from a range of devices, including linear and 2D barcodes, passive or active RFID, GPS, or BLE (Bluetooth low energy devices). The CHEP-TRAC system was designed to be technology agnostic where we can work with whatever technology the customer is accustomed to using; whether it be linear or 2D barcodes, passive or active RFID or GPS. We are also in the process of implementing NFC and BLE – Bluetooth low energy devices.
“We are not promoting barcode, or RFID, or Bluetooth,” Schall explained. “We are promoting what works best for that particular system.”
“We have been in facilities all over the world,” noted Daoud. “Our guys have industrial engineering backgrounds and we really spend a lot of time understanding their flows. Typically we do not automate the legacy flow. We recommend best practices that we have seen at other locations. If we talk to them about how their process works, then we can help them value engineer the best solution. And I think they like that.”
While initial interest from prospective clients is often prompted by interest in RFID, an assessment may or may not suggest the use of RFID. “What we find is that data is data,” Daoud continued. “We can accept it from any mechanism, and most of our clients are multi-mode. So they are doing some barcode, some RFID, integration with a warehouse management system, or perhaps Wi-Fi or GPS. Rarely do we use just one technology. We are integrating several. They each have their efficiency in different situations.”
BYOD and Mobility
Another trend that Schall is noting is the trend towards increased mobility. “We are seeing more customers going towards mobility.” Schall reported, noting that everyone has a phone or tablet, “There are some smaller companies that don’t want enterprise solutions. They want flexible, adaptable solutions where they can use their phone. With mobile assets, you can just scan with the phone, or plug an audio jack and use that as a reader.” While they want their solutions to be enterprised at a level, they also want a floor solution for employees in the field.
Tracking No Longer a Luxury
“Asset tracking has been perceived as a luxury in the past,” Schall noted, but it is really a necessity. Companies need to know where their assets are. People are finding out they are a little behind the times. and rather than spending two, three, four or five years trying to build something themselves, and spending millions of dollars, they are looking for someone who has already figured this out and can offer it out to the market.”
Why Is Reusable Asset Tracking Critical?
When you are making your business case for tracking your reusable packaging, here are some of the things to consider:
- Loss prevention. Reusable asset loss adds up to a big number. Cost-effective asset control can help identify loss, as well as sources of loss so that you have the data to support a conversation around the corrective action.
- Asset availability. A disruption of production can be much more costly than the cost of the lost assets. Effective control helps to ensure reusable asset availability at the right place at the right time and in the right condition.
- Trading partner relationships. The absence of effective reusable asset control can result in needless problems between supply chain partners. Accurate, actionable data can help identify and resolve issues before they fester.
- Asset maintenance history. A tracking solution can provide a cleaning and repair history of the reusable asset.
- Sarbanes-Oxley. From a reusable asset perspective, Sarbanes-Oxley pertains to a public company’s responsibility to account for assets it has on its books. “You can’t just say you have a $100 million of assets on the books and not know where they are,” Schall remarked. For Sarbanes-Oxley, you have to be able to pinpoint them or you are out of compliance.”
- Risk Mitigation. Tracking can help provide visibility into a container’s location and condition history, thus providing information to support compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act or other regulatory or corporate compliance programs. “Take, for example, a food recall,” Schall noted. “You could go into the system, and look at what batches were produced in a given day, hit a button and know where every single product is.”
- Data Integration. The role of “big data” and data integration is becoming of increasing importance, if not necessary for compliance. “The (tracking software) product has evolved,” Schall said. “You can’t just add the tracking technology. A lot of companies have done this but have not seen the return on it. They need the data management. We are integrating with a lot of ERP systems today that are going to be sending us SKUs and purchase orders so our system will now know what is in the container. That is where you add real value and are connecting the supply chain.”