Track & Trace Technology
In distribution and logistics of many types of products, track and trace or tracking and tracing, concerns a process of determining the current and past locations (and other information) of a unique item or property.
This concept can be supported by means of reckoning and reporting of the position of vehicles and containers with the property of concern, stored, for example, in a real-time database. This approach leaves the task to compose a coherent depiction of the subsequent status reports.
Another approach is to report the arrival or departure of the object and recording the identification of the object, the location where observed, the time, and the status. This approach leaves the task to verify the reports regarding consistency and completeness. An example of this method might be the package tracking provided by shippers, such as DHL, FedEx, UPS etc.
Components of Track & Trace Technology
Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) – RFID is synonymous with track-and-trace solutions, and has a critical role to play in supply chains. RFID is a code-carrying technology, and can be used in place of a barcode to enable non-line of sight-reading. Deployment of RFID was earlier inhibited by cost limitations but the usage is now increasing.
Barcode – It is a common and cost effective method used to implement traceability at both the item and case-level. Variable data in a barcode or a numeric or alphanumeric code format can be applied to the packaging or label. The secure data can be used as a pointer to traceability information and can also correlate with production data such as time to market and product quality.
Three different classes of technology available to print barcodes are:
Inkjet (dot on demand or continuous) systems are capable of printing high resolution images at press speed (up to 1000fpm). These solutions can be deployed either on-press or off-line.
Laser Marking can be employed to ablate a coating or to cause a color change in certain materials. The advantage of laser is fine detail and high speed for character printing, and no consumables. Not all substrates accept a laser mark, and certain colors (e.g. red) are not suitable for barcode reading.
Thermal transfer and direct thermal technology is used for lower speed off-press applications. Thermal transfer and direct thermal printers are ideal for printing variable data on labels.
Consumers can access web sites to trace the origins of their purchased products or to find the status of shipments. Consumers can type a code found on an item into a search box at the tracing website and view related and available information. This can also be done via a smartphone taking a picture of a 2D barcode (QR Code) and thereby opening up a website that verifies the product (i.e. product authentication).