The project, ParcelCall, has brought together a consortium of leading European industrial and academic partners to create a system that operates across all borders and carriers whatever mode of transport is being used. The system utilises RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, a Mobile Logistic Server (MLS) with GPS (Global Positioning System) and 'Thinking Tags' that measure and monitor environmental conditions - a major benefit when transporting perishable goods.
"Although many carriers in transport and logistics have had tracking and tracing systems in place, these only cover the individual carrier", says Professor Robin Williams, at the University of Edinburgh, who led ParcelCall's socio-economic research component.
"Now, with supply chains becoming more and more complex - often involving more than one carrier and multiple transport modes - there is a much higher demand for an across the board system. ParcelCall focuses on interoperability, open interfaces, and standardization in order to allow seamless tracking and tracing across the entire logistics and transportation chain.
"So, with its open and scalable system architecture, a small trucking company could adopt the ParcelCall tracking and tracing services just as easily as a large national or international carrier. ParcelCall could also be extended easily by adding new server components."
Sensitive and perishable goods such as fresh food, whose temperature needs to be monitored without interruption, can be equipped with 'Thinking Tags'. These compact reusable devices are equipped with sensors, processing power, memory and are capable of active, two way radio communication.
This means they can monitor their environmental conditions - such as temperature, humidity or shock - record a history of status information, including location, and measurement data, and actively send alerts or messages. 'Thinking Tags' are usually associated with individual items rather than with a container or other transport unit, providing seamless end-to-end surveillance of status, location, and environmental data.
In addition, thinking Tags will be particularly useful in providing invaluable information in the case of theft or loss, and help in settling liability issues if damage or mishandling has occurred. Food suppliers and manufacturers will be very interested whether this concept can lead to cost cuts. There was a huge squeeze on the supply of shipping containers last year, caused partly by China's insatiable demand for raw materials and higher fuel costs, which caused shipping rates to rise 10 per cent to 25 per cent.
The Mobile Logistic Server (MLS) - fitted with GPS receivers to provide accurate and secure global tracking and tracing - keeps track of individual items being transported inside a vehicle or container. This means it is aware of the identity, current location and status of all goods in the unit at all times even if a single item out of a large shipment gets lost, damaged, or takes a different route to the rest of the shipment.
The MLS then makes its information available to a network of fixed servers through mobile communication networks - on demand and on a real-time basis. The system can be programmed to actively alert the owner of the goods, or the transport operator, if the goods deviate from a predefined route, a delay occurs, or an alarm has been generated.
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