20 April 2020

FreightWaves: Tracking infected packages during the times of COVID-19

As a large part of the population stays indoors across the U.S., people at the frontline are fighting a ceaseless battle against the pandemic to stop it from taking more lives or further impacting the economy. Logistics workers across a variety of supply chain segments have continued to report to duty, despite the danger they put themselves and their families in due to exposure at work.

Existing medical evidence suggests that the coronavirus can stay alive for up to a day on cardboard surfaces and up to three days on plastic. With a bulk of all shipment packaging done using cardboard and plastic, frontline logistics workers need to be well-protected while at work.

That said, it is also crucial for supply chains to keep track of the number of people who have physically come in contact with a package. This is critical because if a worker falls ill due to COVID-19, companies can backtrack and see the packages that the worker physically touched over the last few days. Knowing that would help in making sure the compromised shipments can be taken out of the supply chain, reducing the possibility of further spreading the disease.

FreightWaves spoke to Jonathan Savoir and Katherina Lacey, the CEO and Chief Product Officer respectively of logistics automation startup Quincus, to discuss the extent to which packages can be identified as they move through supply chains.

“The best practices that are in place today across freight forwarding companies and places like post offices are about sanitization. Measures include asking workers to wash their hands more often, sanitizing door knobs, and cleaning delivery vehicles,” said Savoir. “That apart, from a technology angle, we should look at solving this not just by enabling contactless delivery, but also being able to trace a package as it moves through the supply chain.”

Lacey contended that technology used for tracking packages for accountability purposes could also be used to solve the issue of identifying packages as they move through the supply chain.

“Gaining an insight into this will help companies handle the situation better,” said Lacey. “If someone does fall ill, they can immediately look to identify all the packages that were in contact with the person, aside from replacing that person with someone else, to ensure smooth operations.”

Nonetheless, the existing tracking mechanisms of ‘who touched what’ are not entirely fail-safe. Lacey mentioned that “packages are somewhat tracked,” calling it a problem especially in places where there is negligible automation and logistics remains a lot more hands-on.

“There’s no real problem in terms of tracking for end customers, as they can track it based on information provided by their logistics company. But even the logistics providers do not have complete visibility into who handles a shipment and how it is handled once it reaches the next hub,” said Lacey. “Yes, people are trying to track and sort them properly, but there are human errors that need to be sorted out.”

Savoir said that he expects technology to structurally alter the way logistics companies  manage their shipments in the future. “We are looking at optimizing and managing shipments throughout an entire supply chain. About a dozen to two dozen people manage the package in that interval, where we want to not only have digital information but also be able to automate the scanning and tracking of the shipment,” he said.

That said, Savoir was also not convinced of government-mandated policies for adopting certain technologies to keep supply chains safe. He explained that it would be a hard problem to solve, especially to gain compliance within the industry.

“At Quincus, we only work with large enterprises. But we already see that we have to make sure our technologies are customized and optimized to their process,” said Savoir. “For a government to mandate that would be very hard.”

Extended lockdowns can also permanently impact the way people consume. “The longer we’re under lockdown, the more the habitual changes in the way people shop – like getting groceries delivered to the door rather than buying them at the local store,” said Savoir. “With this, we can also expect to see fundamental changes in the way supply chains will be built in the future.”

Article Link