Manufacturers have been interested in tracking their supply chains for decades. But historically, trackers have been extremely lifetime limited, and as a result many people assume that wireless tracking solutions just won’t work for a modern, complex supply chain. After all, many industrial supply chains last weeks or even months, and traditional trackers have often had such short lifetimes that they were useless in most supply chain applications.But in recent years, new technological advances are making it possible to develop tracking devices that last up to a year on a single charge. And these new long-lifetime trackers can be used for a great variety of previously impossible supply chain tracking applications. Below, we discuss some of the key technologies that are enabling this new generation of long-lasting supply chain trackers.
1. Better Batteries
When we think of advances in battery tech, we often think of consumer products like electric cars, cell phones, and laptops -- but the improvements that make your cell phone battery life possible are enabling dramatically improved battery performance in commercial applications as well. As batteries become lighter, smaller, cheaper, and more efficient, it has become possible to build tracking devices that last for months or even years on a single charge, while still ensuring the device is inexpensive and compact enough to be useful as a tracker.
Specifically, over the last several decades, we have seen the energy density of lithium ion batteries skyrocket, while price per Watt-hour has gone lower and lower. The table below illustrates these trends:
Historical Prices and Specific Energy Trends for Li-Ion Batteries [source]:
These trends mean that batteries are available today that are cheaper, smaller, and more efficient than ever before. With these new lower-cost, higher-energy-density batteries, companies can count on supply chain trackers to last for the entire duration of their journeys.
2. Fast Firmware
In addition to general advances in battery technology, new products are also employing innovative firmware designs on top of battery-powered trackers to maximize the lifetimes of these devices. This includes firmware that drastically reduces power drain during “sleep” mode, as well as optimization firmware that decouples high-power and low-power activity. For example, data transmission consumes a lot of battery power, while a light or temperature sensor requires less power. The implementation of firmware that allows sensors to gather data while limiting high-power-consumption data transmission makes it possible for devices to get a lot more lifetime out of the same amount of battery power.
3. Cloud Computing
Finally, the development and widespread adoption of cloud computing infrastructure means that a substantial portion of all computation can be done on the cloud, instead of on the device. Without this infrastructure, onboard device power demands would be significantly higher, as all data crunching and computation would have to be done on the device. But new tracking devices are taking advantage of the resources and scalability of cloud computing infrastructure, allowing for much lower power demands on the device itself without sacrificing functionality.
In addition, cloud computing can make devices “smarter” when it comes to how and when they consume power. For example, devices can use cloud-based knowledge about location to adjust their parameters and reduce power usage in accordance with that real-time information.
What This Means for Your Supply Chain
This combination of factors is enabling tracking devices that last long enough to be useful across a modern supply chain. As global supply chains grow longer and more complex, the need for real-time visibility into the location and condition of goods grows as well, and traditional trackers aren’t always up to the task. Thankfully, new technologies make it possible to develop long-lasting trackers that meet the demands of the modern supply chain.
If you’re interested in learning more about how a tracking solution can help you gain visibility into your supply chain, check out our white paper, Beyond Visibility: How to Build a Supply Chain That Thinks, or request a demo today.