June 22, 2018

Surgere launches collective supply chain visibility platform

Shared asset tracking system to include automakers Fiat, GM, Honda, Nissan, Toyota.

By Ben Ames

Logistics technology provider Surgere said Tuesday it had launched a data collection platform for improving supply chain visibility in the automotive industry and had signed up five major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to participate.

The platform could provide asset tracking and analytics by combining data from OEMs and suppliers that agree to share their supply chain data, including founding members Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors, Honda North America, Nissan North America, and Toyota North America, Surgere said.

Green, Ohio-based Surgere provides asset visibility for the automotive, retail, and pharmaceutical industries by collecting tracking data from packaging units such as reusable containers, racks, tools, parts, and trucks, the firm says.

The new "automotive supply chain data ecosystem" will apply this same approach, but generate far more accurate visibility than other systems by creating a vast, shared pool of industry data, Surgere CEO William Wappler said in an interview. By analyzing that data, Surgere can help reduce inherent supply chain losses and inefficiencies for any automakers and suppliers that contribute information to the single, collaborative platform, he said.

Surgere acknowledges that many companies have been hesitant to share their supply chain statistics in the past for fear of giving up a competitive advantage or revealing a weakness. But Wappler argues that under the new data ecosystem, participants won't see each others' transactional data, since all through the information will flow through Surgere's third-party platform, which will then produce general analytics, alerts, and insights.

"Automakers can still compete based on their cars, automation, and marketing. But they can all benefit if they reduce overall cost as an industry," he said. "We're looking at areas in the supply chain where they can cooperate in purchasing, consolidated transportation, buying containers, or pooling of [pallets]."

For example, the system could detect when a parts supplier is running low on shipping containers, when a delivery truck is only 80 percent full, or whether a delivery has arrived at the wrong warehouse, he says. In response, automotive OEMs could cut costs by avoiding collecting stockpiles of contingency containers, or by loading up that empty space on a delivery truck, Wappler said.

Logistics practitioners in many industries share the same goal of improving cost structures and decreasing inefficiencies, John Haber, the founder & CEO of consultancy Spend Management Experts, said in an email. However, many new efforts in that area are turning to internet-based blockchain technology as a foundation for secure data sharing, instead of relying on a third party, Haber said.

However, Surgere says its central role will allow it to compile a more powerful pool of data analytics than other models. "Perhaps the greatest aspect of this incredible coming together is the intent...to make the massive collaboration an open community," Wappler said in a video statement. "All technology providers are welcome to participate. All other OEMs and suppliers are welcome to join."

The Surgere platform will collect data from any participant that can provide raw data with high accuracy, he said. Most of that data will be generated by passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which have become more affordable in recent years thanks to sinking prices of chips and antennas, he said. But in applications where RFID signals can be blocked—such as metal-walled warehouses—the platform could also accept data from ultra-wideband RFID, Bluetooth wireless, or global positioning system (GPS) sensors.

"This isn't new technology, and it isn't rocket science," Wappler said. "But what is new is massive collaboration, and that may be what is takes to get it over the goal line."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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