Can software prevent goods in transportation from being damaged? One may tend to simply say no, but reality proves the opposite. “We were surprised by the evidence”, says Lionel Carrasco, CTO at Neoris, an SAP partner. “Once one of our customers started using Active Suite, the software on the scanning device allowed them to track the people who handled the items to be transported, therefore tracking the handler combined with other operational data. It was amazing to recognize how the loading ramp workers and drivers suddenly handled the goods with more care in order not to be the individually identified as possibly causing the damage from miss-handling.” Finally, this contributed in a 20 percent decrease in damage at a large US Telco company.
Although generating significant results, this is only a side scenario of the capabilities of ActiveSuite. With the help of SAP Event Manager (SAP SCEM), an application within SAP Supply Chain Management, the ActiveSuite, will deliver real time visibility and tracking of vehicles and cargo as well as execution enforcement of transportation plans. “Our technology is a piece of middleware that sits between the real world events and SAP Event Manager”, says Carrasco.
ActiveSuite is capable of responding to questions such as: ‘is this truck late,’ ‘has this truck arrived at the customer site,’ ‘will this truck, given its current location, and the next planned stop, be on time,’ ‘is the temperature in the truck too high or is the back door open,’ ‘is the driver on sequence‘, ‘is the truck stopped at an undesignated location’; knowledge inferred based on the position and movement of vehicles and cargo over time.
Business context for positioning data
ActiveSuite collects, transforms and process tracking and telemetry data from multiple heterogeneous sources, translating thousands of context-less physical events into a handful of meaningful logical events. ActiveSuite’s strength lies in its ability to provision such filtered logical events on time to the SAP Event Manager for further processing where business context and business rules are applied in order to trigger actions that affect specific business processes.
“SAP Event Manager puts the RFID records in a business context. As soon as somebody creates a shipment order, ActiveSuite receives a notification along with context data and begins monitoring. The product knows where the client site is, which truck was assigned, when the vehicle departs and arrives from specific locations. ActiveSuite’s location based event inference along with SAP SCEM event handling capabilities enables actions to take place in a proactive versus reactive mode,” says Carrasco.
As of today, most of the information processing takes place once a driver returns and delivers the daily logs and documentation. By relying on the deferred input and analysis of such data, significant milestones are missed and incidents that could otherwise be avoided are just logged and no corrective action can be performed.
“By providing visibility of the status and location of the transportation fleet, carriers can choose to reroute a returning empty truck to serve a pick order rather than to run a separate truck to fulfill the order, this effectively reduces empty miles”, explains Carrasco. That is only possible with real-time information.
Focus on logistics execution
“Our focus however is set on logistics execution, considering land based transportation services that begin at a warehouse and end at a delivery site. The central goal of this solution and its integration to the readily available SAP SCEM scenarios is the tracking and tracing of transport units and cargo as they transit from one location to another and the understanding and monitoring of the cross docking operations at the hubs”, says Carrasco. The related scenarios are especially relevant for retail companies, which face enormous logistic tasks.
“Take for example a 3PL provider for a large tobacco company”, says Carrasco. “This company changed their entire supply chain model.” They used to deliver to special distribution centers, where store owners purchased the products they needed. Now they have adopted a direct store delivery model using city vans. They now serve orders placed by the store owners from strategically located distribution centers. SAP ERP is integrated with the sales order processing. The third party routing tool plans the distribution routes and ActiveSuite manages the execution of routes that averages 15 to 20 stops, where barcode scanning is being used to enforce the products delivery process. The solution also collects proof of delivery via signature capture which is then integrated back into the SAP ERP to promptly initiate the billing process.
“One of the biggest problems in the transportation industry occurs when the truck pulls away from the dock. By the time the truck has departed, it’s too late to correct any errors made during the loading process”, says Carrasco. Goods released for transportation from warehouse management often get staged at the wrong loading lane. Such items could therefore potentially get mistakenly loaded onto the transport unit generating delays, unsatisfied customers and reverse logistics costs. “But if the items get scanned during the loading process, it shall be possible to validate whether or not the item belongs to the transportation plan assigned to the unit, alerting the user of the error and therefore avoiding such mistakes and its associated costs”, adds Carrasco.
Each time a planned or unexpected event is detected ActiveSuite logs its occurrence and notifies all interested parties of the condition or change in status. A set of potential events come pre-mapped to the SAP SCEM transportation related visibility scenarios, which can then be easily extended to model a particular customer’s requirements and process.
“What are you hauling?”
Carrasco mentions two special features Active Suite has trademarks for. “The first is what we call the nesting capability. If a carrier puts goods in a box and the box is tracked, and then the box is put into a container, we can provide a reverse look up”, says Carrasco. It is also possible to track the box three months later, telling for example which route the item took or where it originated from, so for example recalls are simplified.
The other unique feature of the SAP NetWeaver powered solution is its inference engine. The inference engine detects events based on the position of the tracked items as well as the time elapsed at a given location and the telemetry data received from telemetry equipped devices. Such monitoring capabilities enable ActiveSuite to infer events that go beyond the simple detection of entrance or departure from a given location. By compounding time, telemetry data and historical trends into the analysis ActiveSuite is capable to detect complex conditions such as rolling ETAs, signal the start of detention charges, detect dangerous conditions due to the close presence of incompatible items – for example explosives and oxidants.
ActiveSuite performs these calculations over every single location and telemetry report received from the items and mobile devices, thus simplifying the event handling processing for the upper layers in the stack like SAP SCEM.
What happens for example when a truck has a breakdown? “If the truck breaks down the driver can send a message that says ‘the vehicle is broken and this is my current location’. By doing so, it is then possible to merge the stranded cargo onto rerouted vehicles or to promptly signal the dispatcher to schedule another vehicle. I always tell people to think about the most important question prior to making a tracking technology decision; which is: ‘What are you hauling?’, says Carrasco.
A breakdown of a truck transporting office supplies is annoying, but if a reefer unit with perishable goods in it breaks down, this probably will cost some money. Things might turn out to be extremely expensive with temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals such as vaccines. “So it all depends on what is the impact of delays and deviations during the transportation process. This in the end dictates the tracking and sensing devices to be deployed, as well as the requirements for near real-time communications. It’s possible to put a temperature sensor into the reefer unit, so the carrier gets notified of any impending failures in the unit.” ActiveSuite’s event inference engine algorithms analyze such type of trends and trigger an event alerting of the impending situation even before the unit breaks.