The evolution and adoption of ULD tracking technologies

The air cargo industry and global supply chain is evolving fast, and technology is shaping the future.

One of the emerging trends that the PayCargo team is monitoring is the evolution and adoption of unit load device (ULD) tracking technologies.

Tracking has now entered a new and improved phase, with major carriers like Delta Cargo and Cathay Pacific and outsourced ULD management companies like ACL Airshop, Jettainer and Unilode, using Bluetooth-enabled ULD tracking technology in their fleet of containers and pallets.

The technology enables Bluetooth equipped ULDs to be connected to the Wi-Fi network on aircraft, through a connection between container tag and smartphone functions across flight decks.

Low-energy Bluetooth tracking is a step forward compared to RFID and GPS systems as it provides real-time visibility at a lower cost than RFID and GPS alternatives.

The benefits include collection of a large amount of data, while the technology also has the ability to analyze ULD movements.

Bluetooth tags can also be linked to an air waybill and to the serial numbers of both the pallet and ULD container, giving a far more advanced service to shippers, who will know where and in what condition their shipments are in.

Data transmitted throughout the flight also includes – besides geolocation – information on temperature, humidity and light in the aircraft.

The end-to-end tracking of ULDs also opens up new avenues in transportation safety by allowing live in-flight temperature monitoring and automated load sequencing control before take-off.

Bluetooth ULD tracking technology is something that will be the norm in future as it gives supply chain stakeholders, far greater end-to-end transparency for every shipment that is moved, something which is craved by shippers globally.

There is also an even more mind-boggling and newer track and trace technology in the pipeline that could one day be used in the supply chain.

Diamond dust might one day be used within the supply chain for asset tracking, and is an exciting development.

The technology could one day be used to identify objects and provide the answer to a long-time need of the supply chain to find a way to attach a physical anchor or uncopiable tag to items.

But how does it work?

US company Dust Identity is manufacturing extremely tiny diamonds and creating a coating material to dust objects from low-cost diamond industrial waste.

Objects such as a circuit board are coated with a layer of diamond dust at some point during the manufacturing process and the diamonds are captured in a polymer.

The purpose is to provide a trusted identity for an object using a physical anchor – the diamond dust.

The idea and how this can be applied to the supply chain, is that it proves an object is valid and hasn’t been tampered with, as when a part makes its way to the buyer, they can run it under a scanner and make sure it matches. If the dust pattern has been disturbed, there is a good chance that the piece was tampered with.

This technology could help bridge the trust gap between manufacturers and suppliers and a diamond particle tag could be a better solution than current technologies for product authentication and supply chain security.

Airbus and Lockheed Martin are strategic investors in research into the technology, which shows how stakeholders view the potential value that diamond dust could have in the supply chain.

Last year, Dust Identity partnered with SAP to provide a blockchain interface for physical objects, where they stored the Dust Identity identifier on the blockchain. It provides a physical anchor for blockchain supply chain solutions that is currently lacking.

The question is, will diamond dust be used along with Bluetooth tracking in the future to ensure greater transparency and supply chain integrity?