If you work in supply chain management, chances are you’ve stumbled upon the terms “track and trace,” “real-time tracking,” and “monitoring.” While these phrases are often used interchangeably, they are three distinct concepts. Gaining some insight into each of them can help you figure out which one your business needs.

What is Track and Trace?

Tracking and tracing is a system utilized by various transport and logistics providers to record the movement of goods and deliverables at all stages of the transportation journey. Items are identified at every processing location, and any associated information is recorded and entered into a central processing system. These records are then used to provide location and status updates to shippers and receivers. 

Track and trace is typically used to mean the tracking of the vehicle, trailer, or container. It is sometimes, but less often, used to mean the tracking of the goods themselves at the pallet, package, or item level.

Tracking helps carriers stay on top of the shipment process and know the location of any given transport. It also helps insure against theft, as a truck’s location is always known and the relevant authorities can use existing freight track-and-trace records to find the culprit. 

Indoor or on-site tracking is also common, often used to track goods in large warehouses and parts on complex assembly lines. This form of tracking is typically termed asset tracking or Real Tile Location Services (RTLS) and does not generally fall under the track and trace definition.

Track and Trace: A Pharmaceutical Case Study

Tracking and tracing is a critical method to help ensure the security of drug supply chains. In fact, the U.S. Congress enacted the Drug Quality and Security Act as early as the fall of 2013. The law includes the Drug Supply Chain Security Act, which outlines a series of steps to create an “electronic, interoperable system to identify and trace certain prescription drugs” as they are distributed via a number of supply chains across the United States. 

Asset tracking can help detect and stop the distribution of harmful drugs, preventing consumers from being exposed to counterfeit, contaminated, or otherwise potentially dangerous drugs.

A related application in drug supply chains is cold chain monitoring. Here it’s not about tracking the location of the goods but monitoring if the goods have been kept in the right temperature range throughout the transport. The newest technologies combine track and trace and cold chain monitoring in a single solution.

What Is Real-Time Tracking?

Real-time tracking is just what it sounds like: It provides the exact location of a transport vehicle or goods shipment at the present moment (or close to it). Real-time location data is repeatedly pulled and uploaded to a server after a set number of minutes, hours, or days. For example, if your system is set up to track a shipment every two hours, you will at the very least come to know where your shipment was less than two hours ago.

The best-of-breed solutions take this one step further: They provide a location update when meaningful events occur, such as a shipment unloading event or an unexpected stop. 

Such systems guarantee that you never miss an important event, such as a delivery occurring in between two regular location updates. At the same time, they help avoid depleting the device battery prematurely by sending redundant data, such as multiple location updates of a stationary vehicle.

Real-time tracking is particularly effective at preventing or detecting theft as well as understanding and addressing delays and bottlenecks in your supply chain. Regular status updates can alert you to issues almost immediately so you can respond promptly, which is better than learning about an incident days after it happened and risking severe consequences.

Real-Time Tracking: How IoT Devices Can Help Track Shipments

Whether you wish to track containers, packages or individual items, you can attach IoT devices to them to make them trackable. These devices can give you real-time location updates.

What Is Shipment Monitoring?

At first glance, monitoring and real-time tracking seem like they’re the exact same thing. However, there’s one key difference: “Real-time tracking” typically refers to instances where location is the key measurement, while “monitoring” is commonly used to describe the capturing of sensor parameters in real time, such as temperature, vibration, and shock.  

In terms of tracking a shipment, real-time tracking might give you the locations of your transport vehicles, while a comprehensive shipment monitoring tool can give you detailed visibility into not only the shipment’s location, but also its temperature, pressure, damage condition, cargo loading status, and more. 

So a shipment monitoring solution often includes a tracking function, but not the other way around.

Why Your Business Needs an Effective Track-and-Trace Solution, Real-Time Tracking, and Monitoring

The newest solutions combine all three applications, combining the benefits of all of them. They are called Shipment Monitoring and Tracking solutions.

  • Detect and prevent thefts. Knowing where your shipment is at all times can help you figure out if your goods are somewhere they shouldn’t be. 
  • Identify bottlenecks in the supply chain. Shipment tracking can help you understand where things are taking up a little too much time. If they tend to be in transit too long on a certain highway, maybe it’s time to switch up the driver’s schedule or route. If they’re routinely in processing for hours at a particular logistics centre, you can call the centre and figure out if there’s something you can do to make handling your shipments quicker and easier.
  • Avoid hassles and long calls to customer service. An effective, easy-to-use solution lets you keep an eye on the location of your goods and transport vehicles, freeing you from long, frustrating calls to customer service about shipment details. 

What Should You Look for in a Shipment Tracking and Monitoring Solution?

An effective track-and-trace system will equip you with three primary benefits: 

  • All-in-One solution a solution that provide the benefits of Track & Trace, Real-Time Tracking, and Monitoring in one package
  • Actionable data — metrics that clue you in to your performance, and diagnose potential issues and suggest steps you can take to address the issues before any damage occurs
  • Easy to deploy — a solution that you can deploy to your operations without any expert knowledge and that integrates seamlessly with your existing IT systems

Interested in taking your track-and-trace game to the next level? Learn more about RedLore and how we use the latest advancements in technology to help you supercharge your supply chains.