Automated Tracking in 3PL and Logistics with Simon AI

January 9, 2020

Whether you are a third-party logistics provider or are handling logistics on your own, there are a lot of problems that can arise from the need to track many different items over a large area. In the best-case scenario, you are only dealing with a giant warehouse. In the worst case, you could have several buildings all spread across a large property. That’s why automated tracking is so important.

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The lack of precise tracking has historically led to a number of trade-offs that facility managers must make. It wasn't a matter of whether or not to sacrifice productivity and transparency, but when. The option to completely eliminate those bottlenecks simply did not exist. Bluetooth low energy (BLE) is an IoT technology that has allowed for the creation of devices and associated software that solves those problems. In this post, we'll talk a little bit about what BLE is and how it relates to automated tracking. Then we'll discuss the ways that it can help eliminate common logistical problems in your business through automation of your tracking systems.
Click here to download our ‘What Lean Manufacturing Means in the Age of IoT’ white paper > 

Traditional Tracking vs BLE and Simon AI Automated Tracking

Older methods of tracking often involve having an employee manual enter data about the object in question. This could be as complicated as requiring them to actually input the data into a computer, or it could mean having them scan RFID tags. Either way, the limitation means that you cannot track a large number of items without sacrificing productivity somewhere in your supply chain.
The other alternative is to have a checkpoint that all objects pass through which reads their RFID tags. This is a productivity improvement over forcing the employees to do the tracking manually but only allows you to track a product through certain phases of your processes. This limits the utility of the data that is collected.
Our Bluetooth low energy devices and the Simon AI platform for automated tracking are different. BLE devices can be read from anywhere in your facility, and their location immediately looked up using the Simon AI software. This allows you to track every move of objects throughout your processes in fine-grained detail.
Warehouse automation isn't the only benefit of BLE. The powerful Simon AI platform will then use the power of machine learning to catch inefficiencies that humans would not be able to catch, allowing you to optimize your workflow in addition to having greater knowledge of how your operation is running.

Large operations often mean multiple places where parts or finished products can be stored. Often, these parts are stored in the most efficient place for them at a given time, but this might not be the easiest place to find them later. Storing the items in the easiest place to find them can slow down productivity for sufficiently large operations. This means that you must choose when to negatively impact the efficiency of your operation. Do you take longer than needed to store the items, or do you risk taking too long to find them later? In extreme cases, you might not find the product. This can result in overproduction, wasteful scrapping of completed products, lost revenue as actual scrap lingers, and an overall inefficient supply chain. With old tracking methods, picking/packing/shipping operations will never be as efficient as they can be with automated tracking.

How Simon AI Helps with Automated Tracking?

BLE tags allow you to track every object on your property. The items can be sorted by a unique ID, a description, or some other attribute that is unique to your process. Any employee with access to a computer or tablet will be able to search for those items based on whichever descriptor that they need at the time. 
Additionally, because Simon AI can track all of the movements of every item throughout its time with you, it can identify inefficiencies in where you are storing things and recommend optimizations. This way you will always be striking the perfect balance between how long it takes to store an item and how long it takes to retrieve it. Hence, Simon Al is the perfect example of why automated tracking is essential.

Order & Material Traceability

When you have many different product lines each going through several stages of manufacturing it can be difficult to keep track of them, especially if you are not using automated tracking. This creates a problem because it reduces your transparency. In the digital age, customers expect to be notified promptly. They want exact delivery dates and immediate notification of unforeseen delays. You cannot provide these notifications to them if you do not know exactly how your manufacturing process is flowing along. This is especially true if you offer customization as an option for customers. In that case, you must know exactly where their particular order is in the process. Modern order fulfillment requires greater knowledge than old tracking methods allow for.
Furthermore, there may be inefficiencies in your manufacturing process that you have not caught because you do not have a granular enough view of your manufacturing process, or because you do not have the computational resources to identify these trends. This means that you could be leaving money on the table through decreased productivity.

How Simon AI Helps?

By tagging works-in-progress and individual parts with BLE tags, Simon AI can track every part of your manufacturing process no matter where it is at. Using this data, the platform will be able to tell you exactly which phase of production that particular product is in. This gives you a complete overview of what is going on in your manufacturing process.
But it does not stop there. Simon AI will automatically detect when an anomaly occurs. When one does, the software can be notified to automatically notify employees so that someone can identify and resolve the issue promptly. In complex operations, this can increase productivity significantly versus relying on employees to manually catch each problem before it becomes a larger problem.

Asset Utilization & Inventory

If your business uses a large amount of expensive equipment that is meant to be shared amongst an equally large employee base that is spread across multiple buildings or departments then the logistics of keeping track of it all can be a nightmare. If a piece of equipment goes missing, you might not ever find out about it, much less be able to identify what happened to it so that it doesn't happen again. Employees may spend too much time looking for assets that have not been properly tracked. Some of those assets might not even still be with the company.
Manually managing who is responsible for what at any given time is a difficult task. It will either needlessly limit the utility of the object in question and its ability to be passed around efficiently, or fail to do provide any meaningful tracking entirely. Of course, none of this accounts for the productivity that is lost when employees must spend time logging asset usage. In a worst-case scenario, you may have dedicated employees just to track who has checked out which items and what they are being used for. All of these issues result in wasted money and decreased profits that could be avoided with automated tracking.
How Simon AI Helps?
Using the search feature that we've discussed previously stops the need for employees to spend time searching for an asset that they need. The Simon AI platform will be able to direct them to the asset. They will even be able to narrow down their search and find the one closest to them so that they waste as little time as possible retrieving the item. This alone will limit the negative impact of assets being left places where they are not supposed to be and getting lost, but Simon AI can go a step further and send a notification if an item sets for too long without being used. This will help further ensure that assets always make their way back to where they are supposed to be.

Start Automated Tracking with

Using BLE and Simon AI is as simple as assigning a tag to an object, taking that object anywhere within the coverage area, and searching on any computer terminal using this to find it. Because automated tracking in 3PL requires a wide range of form factors offers a number of different BLE tags. There are tags in card form for people, in tiny form for portable assets, heavy-duty form for assets that may take some physical abuse, and in forms that can be permanently mounted. This means that no matter what your tracking needs, we have a tag that will be able to meet them.
The real power of the tags is unlocked with our advanced Simon AI - the Location IoT Platform. The platform will make it easy to find assets quickly and identify inefficiencies in your operation that will improve productivity. To see what automated tracking with Simon AI and BLE can do for your business, visit our website and contact us.

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Aneta Ciurkot

Director, Product Marketing

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