How to Track Returnable Packaging in ‘Real Time?’

June 27, 2019 - Ivan Diaz

Read Time 3 Mins.

How to Track Returnable Packaging in ‘Real Time?’

Are you using an ERP like SAP in your organization to track your returnable packaging? Do you want to upgrade the Returnable Packaging Module function of your SAP or ERP to support real-time tracking? Learn how you can achieve real time returnable packaging tracking by using a hybrid IoT technology platform and APIs.

Let’s begin by analyzing the possibilities of the existing reusable packaging process in SAP or any ERP, studying its limitations in terms of holistic visibility. We will conclude with how you can use a hybrid IoT technology using Multi-LPWAN connectivity (Nb-IoT, LTE-M, Sigfox) to upgrade your ERP to support real-time tracking of returnable packaging or reusable containers within your own warehouse, when they are being transported, as well as at your customer locations.


Power of the SAP Returnable Packaging Module

The returnable packaging tracking functionality in SAP, or any other ERP for that matter, is built to help you manage your returnable packaging, containers, pallets, racks, crates, bins or tubs better.

Returnable packaging/shipping containers can contribute heavily to your supply chain cost if poorly managed. 10-40% of reusable shipping containers typically don’t make it back. Therefore, it becomes important to track and manage these returnable containers effectively.

The Returnable Packaging Module in SAP, or in any ERP for that matter, helps you track your returnable shipping containers. It enables you to:

  • Create and identify your returnable shipping crates, tubs, or bins

  • Locate them by warehouse

  • Assign custodians for pallets at a location

  • Tie goods to a pallet on the ERP, so you know which items went on which pallet, and ultimately pallet utilization.

By marking an item as a Non-Ordered Item on the ERP, you can segregate it from an order that is shipped, and still tie it to the order it carried.


What the SAP Returnable Packaging Cannot Do?

The Returnable Transport Packaging (RTP) Process in SAP or other ERPs has major drawbacks in its native form:

  • Manual identification of pallets is still necessary. Someone needs to feed the data into the ERP.
  • Data entry errors could cause issues in tracking down an RTP when needed, leading to aging or loss of RTPs.

SAP offers the ability to manage pallets, but it does not support automated data capturing and real-time tracking.


How to Track Returnable Containers in Real-Time?

To monitor pallets, returnable containers or RTPs in real time, you need an IoT device that can be attached to pallets, and an IoT platform that you can integrate with your SAP using an API.

For best results, you require a hybrid IoT solution that works using all these Multi-LPWAN connectivity technologies – Nb-IoT, LTE-M, Sigfox, and on 2G cellular network as backup.

Attach the LPWAN tags onto your pallets that use an Nb-IoT, LTE-M, Sigfox, or 2G signal (2G helps when there is no LPWAN connectivity). 

The tags help monitor your pallets in your warehouse, when in transit on a shipment, and in your customers’ warehouses – providing end-to-end visibility across your supply chain.

Once this is done, you have to integrate SAP or your ERP to the IoT platform using APIs or web hooks.

How can you save big on returnable packaging with IoT?


Why RFID Technology and BLE Beacons aren’t the Perfect Returnable Container Tracking Solutions?

  • RFID: It needs infrastructure setup such as LAN connections and a power source, which means that your visibility is limited to your own warehouses. Most of the loss or aging takes place when the returnable containers are in transit or when they are lying idle at your customers’ or suppliers’ warehouses.

  • BLE: It provides real-time pallet information from warehouse and in transit, overcoming RFID’s limitations, yet lacks in a major point, which is the need for infrastructure, giving way to a better technology.

  • LPWAN: It removes this extra time and cost as it is an infrastructure-less technology and needs no gateway hotspot setup. Though BLE Beacons transmit real-time information, it still requires setting up of infrastructure at all the facilities, which consumes time, requires effort, and comes with a cost. This is just what is taken care of by LPWAN.


IoT Integrated Returnable Packaging Process Flow with Roambee

1-1     1. Tag the pallets with Roambee’s LPWAN Tags. 
2-3     2. Link the LPWAN tag ID with your SAP or ERP. This is a one-time exercise.
SAP-Roambee-Integration     3. Assign your pallet as usual to your shipment as a Non-Ordered Item as per your standard process on SAP (as shown here) or your ERP.
Pallet-Tracking-on-Your-ERP     4. Use your SAP or ERP to identify precisely whether a pallet is in-transit or located in which zone in which warehouse.
Pallet-Management-with-SAP/ERP-and-IoT     5. Create custom reports on your ERP to monitor:

a. Aging data

b. RTP stock by warehouse

c. RTP stock by zones in your warehouse

d. Alerts for pallets that have moved outside your chain of custody


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