The future of supply chain visibility


In the dynamic world of logistics, staying ahead of the competition requires constant innovation and adaptation. One company that has been focused on improving cargo tracking and supply chain visibility is Descartes. With their cutting-edge tracking systems and innovative technology, Descartes is transforming the way information is gathered and shared in the air messaging space

“Descartes has been in the sector for 30 years, connecting and gathering information to share between multiple parties, whether it’s freight forwarders, airlines or government agencies,” Simon Gutschlag, Descartes’s Vice President of Product Management, Air Cargo Internet of Things Solutions, said.

Descartes has been a prominent player in the logistics space for over three decades, connecting and gathering information to facilitate seamless communication between multiple parties. In recent years, Descartes has embraced the evolution of tracking systems by introducing Unit Load Device (ULD) tracking and Bluetooth tracking. These advancements enable real-time tracking of assets in the field, moving beyond static system updates to live data collection through Descartes’ BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) network.

Enhanced tracking

The development of ULD tracking and Bluetooth tracking systems has been several years in the making, with a focus on expanding and improving the network’s density and coverage around airports and ground handling facilities. To overcome challenges posed by inconvenient asset storage locations, Descartes has introduced mobile and solar-powered readers. These solar-based readers, strategically placed in parking lots and other suitable locations, can efficiently track assets, such as pallets and containers, without the need for external power sources. This innovative solution not only improves inventory management but also aligns with sustainability goals by utilising renewable energy.

“We’re a networking business and the ULD tracking that we’ve done is kind of the next evolution of that,” Scott Sangster, General Manager of Logistics Service Providers at Descartes explained. “It’s not just telling you what’s happened. We’re going out and actually recording it live in the field as it’s going on.”

The demand for enhanced supply chain visibility and real-time tracking has significantly influenced the adoption of Descartes’ tracking systems. Companies are now seeking comprehensive visibility from the start to the finish of their supply chain processes. For ULD tracking, the primary driving factor has been asset management optimisation. By accurately tracking assets’ location and ensuring timely returns, businesses can reduce the need for safety stock and improve utilisation, resulting in cost savings and operational efficiency.

“The technology not only helps expand the network but also improves the density of the network and the coverage around airports, ground handling facilities and so on,” Sangster explained.

Additionally, the focus on “how’s my stuff” rather than just “where’s my stuff” has led to the integration of additional data elements in the tracking process. Descartes’ tags offer not only location tracking but also the monitoring of temperature, humidity, light detection, motion/shock detection, and equipment handling through accelerometers. These features provide an additional layer of value to customers, especially in sectors like shipping, pharmaceuticals, and cold chain logistics.

“From a shipment tracking perspective, people are much more interested in having that real time experience and understanding of the environment,” Gutschlag explained. “So that’s driven adoption, giving an additional level of value to the customers.”

READ: SEKO Logistics chooses Descartes

Quick reaction time

The real-time nature of Descartes’ tracking systems empowers businesses with quick reaction capabilities. For example, in a recent use case, a customer detected that a container had been opened at an airport without authorisation through the light sensor on the tag. Immediate action was taken to investigate the situation and prevent any theft or tampering. Such timely alerts enable businesses to protect their assets, ensure shipment integrity, and swiftly address any issues that may arise during transportation.

“It’s as close to real time as it’s able to do. If there’s a change, you’d know it,” Gutschlag highlighted. “You measure location, temperature, humidity, light detection, fire detection, etc.”

Descartes’ tracking systems can be deployed in any location as long as a reader can be positioned near an airport. However, the adoption of these systems varies across regions, driven by specific considerations. North American carriers, for instance, focus on covering their home territories first to gain visibility into their assets. 

However, the value proposition often increases for assets that leave the carriers’ controlled facilities, making the system more beneficial for them in those locations. Thus, regional factors and operational dynamics influence the deployment and penetration of Descartes’ tracking solutions.

READ: Descartes digitises freight forwarders with new solution suite

Future developments

Descartes’ tags are designed to last for at least five years, with some tags even exceeding six or seven years of battery life. The longevity of the tags allows for prolonged use without frequent replacements. Depending on customer requirements, Descartes provides a range of options, balancing battery life and data collection capabilities. The company continues to invest in research and development to improve the range, performance, and features of their tags, ensuring they stay at the forefront of technology advancements.

When introducing new technology, change management becomes a critical factor for success. Descartes acknowledges that the biggest challenge lies in managing the transition and getting people to adopt and embrace the new systems. “The biggest challenge is getting people away from the paper and manual data entry, changing the way they work,” Gutschlag said.

To overcome this, Descartes focuses on aligning with customer needs and clearly articulating the benefits of their technology. By demonstrating how the adoption of their systems can improve business processes, utilisation, and value-added work, Descartes helps customers understand the value proposition and navigate the change with confidence. “It’s great having technology but if people can’t simply understand it, they get spooked,” Sangster explained. “When you know how easy those processes are to implement and understand, technology is well received.”

Descartes believes in collaboration and partnerships to provide a comprehensive end-to-end solution for customers. They integrate their technology with other software products and systems, ensuring seamless data sharing and leveraging each partner’s strengths. In addition to software integrations, Descartes actively engages with logistics service providers, ground handlers, and ULD leasing companies to deliver additional value throughout the supply chain. “We’re always looking at new technology, new evolutions, new partners, constantly improving technology,” Gutschlag stated.