Next-generation marking technology for the simple pallet
Many years ago, I was walking around a show with Frank, a vendor of paper labels. At the time, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags were entering the commercial mainstream. And, Frank was intrigued when people described how it could be incorporated into a paper label. While he was used to a printed or bar coded label to mark a shipment, an RFID tag could carry a much larger database of information. Talk about value add for a label.
Then Frank started asking people about the cost of a tag. Everyone told him several dollars. Finally, Frank had heard enough and replied, “When you get it down to ¼ of a cent a piece, call me at this number,” handing the person his card. Unfortunately, a fraction of a penny a label was the world that Frank lived in. He couldn’t imagine anything else.
Well, RFID tags are still not that inexpensive and may never be. But, the idea of marking and tracking a shipment with more than a simple label lives on. Just ask Mike Jones, a principal at the Pallet Alliance, a third-party manager of national wooden pallet programs for manufacturers.
As he explains, you can mark shipments on pallets in several ways. The old standbys of alpha-numeric or bar code labels are common. Even RFID has a place. But those techniques are really only effective identification of the load at the shipment and receipt locations. Nothing in between. For that, you need mobile/cellular systems.
These monitor and report pallet status while in transit at any preset interval. The data alerts can be integrated with any enterprise resource planning platform or warehouse management system, says Jones.
When coupled with a mobile hub, Bluetooth-equipped pallets can also provide updates during shipment. Bluetooth systems are far less expensive on a per pallet basis, but range is limited to 100 meters of the hub.
Now, the Pallet Alliance offers LoRaWAN connected pallets. LoRaWAN, shorthand for long-range wide area network, connects devices a mile or more apart, working much like an Internet of Things system. LoRa (yes, it’s pronounced Laura) securely monitors and reports pallet status while in transit. Reports can be generated at any desired interval.
When asked about the technology cost per pallet, Jones says it varies based on the application, connectivity technology and customer interface. He emphasizes that this is just one component of a broad-based pallet management program.
He also offers no details about how the sensor is integrated and protected within the pallet so the two don’t get separated. He will say there is at least one patent pending.
When Jones was first approached about the idea, he had trouble wrapping his head around spending much of anything to track a $10 pallet. Frank would have been proud of him.
However, pallets do get lost. But more importantly-what about the loads on them, and the condition of those loads at all times? That’s an entirely different value proposition that led to this new next-generation technology. As they say, this story is still developing. So, stay tuned. It’s anybody’s guess where the world of marking and tracking will go next.
Gary Forger is a contributing editor with Modern
This article was written by Gary Forger from Modern Materials Handling and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.