Shipment tracking is about to get easier. IBM and Maersk Logistics have announced plans to market a system they've developed that provides real-time shipment status information without the need for RFID readers, or interrogators, to collect data at checkpoints along a shipment's journey.
The need for readers is eliminated because the IBM/Maersk system fits cargo containers not with standard RFID tags but with much more powerful wireless tracking devices, called TRECs (Tamper-Resistant Embedded Controllers), which not only collect data but can transmit it as well. The devices automatically collect information on each container—including physical location (based on GPS readings), temperature and humidity readings, and sensory readings to detect intrusion—and send it to a fully integrated data network. Data gathered by the TRECs can be poured into decentralized databases to which accredited supply chain participants can gain access. Though each participant will own its own content, a service-oriented infrastructure allows users to share information instantly.
The system's beauty lies in its simplicity, says James Rice, director of the Integrated Supply Chain Management Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Some of today's shipping logistics involves enormous levels of complexity, ... including lengthy paper trails, and limited levels of security," Rice notes. "The ability to create an environment where all supply chain participants have real-time visibility ... will eliminate some of this complexity. The IBM and Maersk initiative offers a promising approach for a more truly resilient and secure trans-border supply chain."
In hopes of getting the system ready for commercial application next year, IBM and Maersk Logistics are currently running a pilot project. Those field tests will be followed by a large commercial pilot in March 2006.