BLE beacons in Logistics and Warehousing
What is a BLE Beacon Tracking System?
A BLE beacon tracking system consists of two parts: transmitter and receiver (your inventory and you).
The transmitters are the BLE beacons themselves (sometimes referred to as “tags”). BLE beacons are small radio transmitters that travel with and identify your inventory. They’re inexpensive, battery operated and reusable. The range is adjustable from close range (several cm) to longer range (450 m), and the signal can travel through most materials.
On the receiving side, you could have one of two variants: network access point or mobile reader. Network access points are generally stationary devices in proximity to your inventory that relay your overall inventory to a cloud database (or perhaps another network). Mobile readers, on the other hand, are generally used by humans (or robots) that need to take action based on the proximity of specific inventory. In both cases, a simple smartphone or tablet can serve the purpose of a receiver, though in certain cases it can be advantageous to utilize purpose-built devices.
Where are BLE Beacons Otherwise Being Used?
BLE beacons are extremely versatile and very popular in fields such as retail, entertainment, hospitality, construction, automotive and healthcare, where beacons are helping organizations better tailor how people interact with their environment.
In retail, for example, beacons are the foundation for enhanced shopping experiences, and provide stores, in turn, data to tailor their offerings. In healthcare, beacons can be used to seamlessly get the right medical records onto health professionals’ devices, for example.
BLE beacons in Logistics and Warehousing
In logistics and warehousing, beacons are fast becoming the go-to method to cost-effectively optimize operations, winning out over barcodes or RFID-based solutions that need clear-line-of-sight or very close proximity. BLE beacons can optimize your inventory’s entire journey from production to shipment to store shelf.
There are basic benefits. Knowing where your inventory is at any given point in time spares what is otherwise a tedious manual process, that requires halting operations until your inventory numbers are resolved. Inventory auditing can help with such topics as identifying missing or aging inventory, and this feature alone can be a benefit that justifies the investment of implementing a BLE beacon system.
Then there are more advanced benefits. It’s great to know where your inventory is, but knowing where it ought to be is all the better. Despite our best intentions, inventory is often placed haphazardly leading to wasted time and resources. Beacons can help you optimize and save you time and money.
Optimizing your Inventory’s Journey
With a BLE beacon system, arriving inventory announces that it has come to a given storage area, and data goes to an algorithm that decides where the inventory will be placed. The algorithm decides on the inventory’s placement based on factors such as the previous history of how quickly similar items get picked, as well as the current state of the warehouse in terms of inventory (space) and staff activity and resources available like forklifts, scales and more (capacity).
The algorithm should act dynamically based on the nature of the inventory, as well as the location of the inventory as the state of the warehouse changes over time. Algorithmic placement of inventory based on BLE beacon data ensures the quickest travel time, and shortest distances and avoids bottlenecks.
The algorithm should also be developed with an eye toward human operators. This means giving stakeholders a personalized user interface that lets them monitor and understand operations, especially where automated processes are in place, as well as giving suggestions and instructions where human action is required.
The Big Picture
In this article, we’ve focused quite a bit on the level of the warehouse, but the considerations we’ve presented apply in related situations, such as temporary storage staging areas, placement of containers in a container ship, or even for placement of inventory inside a container, based on which inventory will be needed first, such as, for example, perishable goods.
Effective Customs Clearance
At container terminals, BLE beacon systems can significantly reduce dwell time. Combined with blockchain technology, BLE beacon technology can also be instrumental in resolving the complicated business of supervising the flow of goods crossing borders and of goods in transit by facilitating risk-based controls, thus improving compliance and trade facilitation in cooperation between state authorities and trustworthy economic operators.
Where to Start
The foundation for benefiting from BLE beacon solutions is reliably getting a hold of the data. So instead of sitting down and solving your whole problem on paper, start with getting a hold of the data, because otherwise, you don’t have any cards in your hands. Don’t get blinded by the possibilities and complexities. Get a hold of the data first, start small, and go from there.