Molex’ chief supply chain officer, Don Hnatyshin, explores the potential of smart labels in developing resilient, flexible and transparent supply chains.
Same-day deliveries and step-by-step parcel tracking are today’s norm and with it comes expectations for greater responsiveness and proactive communication within a supply chain. The electronics supply chain is no exception. Customers expect a business-to-consumer experience in a business-to-business world, with responsiveness measured in hours and days, not months and quarters.
Connectivity of information is a primary driver of supply chain change. It lets companies share richer information end-to-end, leading to faster demand and supply decisions, while also showing where resiliency and agility need improvements. Two things are required to connect information: first, a conduit for real-time transmission of supply chain information; and second, the ecosystem which enables scenario planning and decision support tools.
Events like the global pandemic test supply chain resilience and flexibility. Unexpected disruptions, lack of resources and unexpected shifts in demand force companies to re-configure logistic networks. Fast-growing sectors demand supply chains accurately track products and materials worldwide to meet dynamic end market demand.
However, the requirement for high-speed supply chains isn’t the only driver for change. Consumers are also looking for transparent supply chains and are conscious of how their products are manufactured, packaged and stored. Demand for transparency has been recognized by lawmakers too. The EU is currently researching the effects of a mandatory EU system of due diligence for supply chains, which might trigger a major overhaul of the corporate governance rules to incorporate sustainability objectives.
Smart labels provide an alternative to barcoding and RFID to facilitate supply chain transparency. Smart labels are lightweight, cost-effective and disposable. They support trends toward easy use, low cost and more sustainable asset tracking. They are easy to integrate and a cost-effective solution to manage historic and real-time data for materials tracking.
The biggest contrast between traditional tracking methods and smart labels is the power source needed to keep integrated sensors operating within smart labels. Molex complemented important flexi-circuit breakthroughs with licensed, sustainable ‘thin-film’ battery technology from Enfucell. Without a traditional battery that would need to be recycled, smart labels pose an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional RFID. Additionally, smart labels can also include environmental sensors in a ‘peel-off’ format to enable location tracking via low-power wireless networks. For example, LoRaWAN or Bluetooth Geo Location for tracking within buildings could be used.
Constructing an end-to-end transparent database that allows for clear and rapid analysis of any potential challenges and live-tracking of goods is critical in a modern supply chain. In the future supply chain success won’t be determined by moving goods, but rather the availability of real-time information to enable advance planning and risk mitigation, and smart labels are just one way to enable an agile supply chain and provide a starting point for collecting and building a robust data set.