UPS beacon tech aims to eliminate parcel loading errors

By Chris Dawson April 19, 2017 - 12:03 pm

Just about every ecommerce retailer will have walked into the office one day to find what’s called an ‘exception’ for one of their deliveries. An ‘exception’ is when something went wrong with a shipment and your delivery promise to the customer won’t be kept by your carrier.

Often times it’s something as simple as a parcel being loaded onto the wrong truck. Now UPS want to totally eradicate these mistakes in an initiative called ‘Preload Smart Scan’, by installing electronic beacons in its package cars to notify workers if they have placed an item in the wrong delivery vehicle.

Preload Smart Scan uses Bluetooth-enabled beacons that communicate with package-scanning devices worn by UPS employees loading packages onto vehicles. The scanners, which read package labels, are programed to know where a package belongs in a specific vehicle. The beacons, meanwhile, send signals that are unique to certain vehicles and their position within the vehicle. The scanners detect those signals. If a package enters the wrong vehicle, the scanner will notify the loader of the error.

“This is an important step toward improving accuracy in our operation. It raises the level of service we provide to our customers. It also makes us more efficient and generates valuable cost savings.”
– John Dodero, UPS vice president of industrial engineering.

UPS’s beacon application in a vehicle required a customized high-tech solution. Off-the-shelf beacons were inadequate due to their broad signal range and the close proximity of UPS package cars during morning loading. Beacon signals bled through the sides of package cars, yielding inaccurate information.

UPS worked with a vendor to customize beacons for use on delivery vehicles that are parked very close together. The beacons now have a tighter range, rugged design, longer battery life and can be configured to match the exact dimensions of the package car.

Unsurprisingly, UPS have applied for a patent for the beacon technology – they are pretty sure that competitors (and other companies with multiple delivery bays, perhaps retailer distribution centres) could also see benefits.

UPS beacons will be in 301 (28%) of their US locations this year and there are plans to roll out to facilities internationally.

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