By Behzad Hezarkhani and Dmitry Krushinsky, Smart Logistics Lab, Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands.
Imagine you can tell – at any moment – where are the ordered items from the suppliers and how far are your shipments from the customers. Suppose that you can specify the sources used in every single unit of your products or identify the consumer who is holding a product of yours. Tracking and tracing capabilities in supply chains could be used in many ways, from inventory management and logistics planning, to promotion management, counterfeit prevention, and even reducing the CO2 footprint. The realisation of such benefits, however, is conditioned on the seamless management of a huge amount of data on the supply chain scale. Furthermore, it should be worth its cost.
12 institutions and companies from Belgium, Germany, France, Great Britain, Luxembourg and The Netherlands have come together in the project 'Ecologistics' to demonstrate the benefits of increased transparency in supply chains via consistent use of existing international and cross-industry standards.
Co-sponsored by Interreg-IVB (an EU funding institution) the project's main objective is to develop an ICT-based demonstrator of identification and communication technologies in supply chain. The demonstrator is aimed to show which technologies for information retrieval, storage and exchange can be used to ensure a complete interoperability between the supply chain actors (with a focus on SMEs) using different identification technologies (1D & 2D barcodes, RFID) and performing different tasks (manufacturers, logistic service providers, retailers, etc.) in a variety of industries.
This tool will highlight the advantages and limitations of different technologies and their complementarity and interoperability through GS1 Electronic Product Codes (EPC) standards. Publicly accessible, the demonstrator will illustrate scenarios drawn from real business cases.
Participants could obtain detailed information about how to get more transparency in their supply chain through a reliable and convenient tracking of an object in real time that reduces transport costs and traffic, thereby improving both the cost and the environmental balance. Transparency also leads to further synergies within the company through tighter control of inventory levels or faster and more efficient order picking. This is especially interesting for transportation and supply chains in the range of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) because available technologies now support small and flexible solutions without large investments but with high potential.
In several use-case studies performed in different companies across Europe, current supply chain flows have been investigated for benefits and opportunities created by the introduction of EPC. For example, a small company in Germany has specialized in the distribution of high quality, individually tailored polymers and additives as well as in optimised customer service for the use of these raw materials. The service includes advice on the choice of materials, but also on laboratory analysis of materials or technical support and tool design. As part of the Ecologistics' study, logistics processes, ordering, distribution and information flow were examined in the company. The use of EPC codes could bring additional security in the supply chain and the market through the unique identification and the possibility of batch tracking of finished goods.
Now, the Ecologistics project offers European wide workshops for interested companies to match the potential of the new technology with the needs of their business. For more information visit http://www.ecologistics-project.eu/