How the Logistics Industry Can Implement RTLS to Improve Sustainability

In the early days of sustainability efforts for U.S. logistics companies, many business leaders viewed sustainability as a PR opportunity rather than a meaningful pursuit. Inevitably, many companies chose to promote themselves with claims of sustainable practices and green initiatives while their efforts were half-hearted or at best exploratory.

The practice of greenwashing was so pervasive among U.S. businesses that the FTC directly addressed the issue in its Green Guides.

But now, while nine out of ten CEOs agree that sustainability is important, only around six in ten companies have developed plans and strategies to actually increase sustainability: it’s still a lot of talk and idealism, but the action so far has been lacking. 

Fortunately, with the variety of new energy-efficient technologies available, it is now easier than ever to develop a viable sustainability plan that can reduce both the impact on the environment and costs for your business. Among those technologies is one that is of particular applicability to the logistics industry: Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS).

 

An RTLS primer 

So, what exactly is an RTLS, and how does it relate to logistics? Well, if the logistics industry is about getting supplies, materials, and products to where they need to be, RTLS is all about verifying that those things are where they’re supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be there. The system allows goods to be tracked across a warehouse floor or even throughout the whole supply chain. 

An RTLS comes with a series of tags – small, battery-powered devices that send out location signals in real-time – that you can attach to whatever objects you need to track. The tags will then send signals to receivers (aka locators) that are scattered throughout a building. Software receives the data from the locators to determine the coordinates of the tagged assets. 

The improved location efficiency that an RTLS engenders is also an essential component of smart energy-saving systems. Think about it: if you know where everything is in a warehouse and how long a certain object takes to move from point A to point B, you can determine the optimal route for that object.

 

Steps to implement RTLS in your facility

As a result of the changing mindset about sustainability in the logistics industry, a major goal of chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) is to reduce energy and waste. In fact, 72% of CSCOs now recognize the risks of climate change and want to increase sustainability in their own businesses. 

But what practical steps can organizations take to implement RTLS effectively and thereby improve sustainability efforts? 

1. Analyze your operating environment

Implementing an RTLS system will force organizations to examine their current practices to determine the system best suited for them. To efficiently implement and select such a system, companies need to first determine the specific needs of their facility.

So, first and foremost, companies need to consider their operating environment. If you operate in an environment that combines indoor and outdoor spaces, for instance, your RTLS equipment needs to withstand the elements and not rust.

You also need to consider potential structural interference: metal objects may interfere with passive frequency signals. Or are you working on multiple floors? Then your RTLS system must be sensitive enough to pinpoint the location of the tracked asset without reporting an asset’s location on the wrong floor.

2. Consider your needs and goals

Companies need to determine the most suitable RTLS system for their facilities, which will help them achieve better profit margins, lower energy costs, and improved sustainability. 

Targets

Do you want to track assets, people, or both? Ask yourself: is there a long lead time trying to track down materials or products in the warehouse? Are there inefficiencies in how employees navigate or traverse the floor plan? Are assets going missing? These questions will help you identify your target: what you wish to track and why. 

Accuracy

Next, you have to determine how accurate you need the asset’s location to be in the system. There are three p’s when it comes to accuracy: presence (is it there or is it not?) proximity (what’s it close to?), and positioning (where is it precisely?)

Do you need to know the exact coordinates of an asset? Then you need a system that will give you the best positioning—but that’s not necessarily what every company requires: a rough estimate may work fine for others, or even just an indicator if it’s inside the facility or not. Whichever level of accuracy you require, an RTLS system will inevitably stop employees from running around the warehouse looking for an item already dispatched. 

3. Be mindful of implementation challenges

There are bound to be some hiccups during implementation, but these can be anticipated and mitigated. 

The most basic challenge is that your existing IT infrastructure may not support RTLS: you need sufficient electrical access and network connectivity throughout your entire facility. That means you need enough ethernet cables that support a number of receiving devices. This can require significant cable installation that increases up-front costs, although it will likely save you money in the long run.

Another challenge is shifting employee behavior and updating existing protocols. For instance, some actions may still be performed manually by your personnel, which interrupts the digitized tracking system. If the forklift is tagged with asset tags, but your employees opt to move a shipping container by hand without the forklift, the containers will be lost in the system. 

 

Win-Win

Though not without challenges, RTLS systems can produce rich data to increase operating efficiency and also produce transparent figures for ESG (environmental, social, and governance) ratings. These rating systems are designed to measure a company’s long-term impact across multiple scales and add a new degree of accountability to the public and investors.

Early attempts at greenwashing are giving way to genuine efforts at promoting and achieving sustainability. And with the help of new technologies like RTLS, sustainability in the logistics sector is clearly achievable. These new technologies are both good for business and good for the environment. Who doesn’t want that?

By Fabio Belloni

Did you know?

Quuppa is the leading RTLS platform for indoor positioning
Fabio Belloni

Fabio Belloni

Fabio Belloni is the Co-founder & Chief Customer Officer at Quuppa. He is also a member of Forbes Technology Council – A Community for World-Class CIOs, CTOs, and Technology Executives. (Read more here)

This article was originally published here Forbes.com

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