Open intermodal visibility system EPCIS to take next step

By: Rob McKay

Electronic Product Code Information Service can act as overlay on firms’ internal systems

Open intermodal visibility system EPCIS to take next step
Chris Orford sees cost savings.


An intermodal visibility standards project backed by the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) and IT facilitation and standards organisation GS1 Australia is set to enter its second phase after its pilot trial was dubbed a success.

Designed to improve the visibility of products moving along the supply chain, the Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS) is being developed as a global standard.

The pilot scheme at has been evaluated positively by the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Workplace Leadership as well as gaining glowing reviews by the firms involved.

The hope is to have an operating platform running by July.

Brought together after three years of development pushed by the ALC’s technology committee, it fell to OneSteel, Reject Shop and Nestle to put it through its paces, with Nestle trial partner BagTrans gaining the transporter’s experience.

All four related their national east-west supply chain insights at the recent ALC Forum, where the university’s evaluation was made public.

OneSteel market offer execution manager David McNeil notes the last his firm sees "from a system point of view" of product from some of his plants is when it leaves the premises.

The supply chain involved K&S taking containerised Melbourne product to Pacific National, which railed it to Perth where K&S picked it up and disaggregated it before it was transported to end-users.

"We lose visibility quite quickly in some instances," McNeil says.

"We needed the capability to talk to different transport providers in a standard solution so we could get visibility of where our deliveries are at."

Nestle brought less-than-container-load transport firm BagTrans into the trial.

BagTrans general manager – operations Chris Orford notes that while all reasonably sized transport firms have track-and-trace capability, these systems are unable to be integrated "and the further down the [transport] chain you go, there are no systems".

"For us, there is an immediate cost benefit if this is working because . . . as soon as something goes wrong, the cost of transport goes through the roof," Orford says, due to loss of time and effort at several levels in trying to remedy the situation.

It also allows other involved firms to know what is occurring and to adjust accordingly.

GS1 CEO Maria Palazzolo reveals the basic structure belongs to the development of radio-frequency identification (RFID) and barcode scanning.

"It is a framework of real-time event capturing of data," Palazzolo says.

The system registers each event, its location and by whom in a format available to participants, thereby tackling logistics customer concerns about gaps in the visibility of products as they move between supply chain partners, not least when changing transport modes.

Palazzolo was at pains to emphasise that the system was designed to be used as an ‘overlay’ to a company’s existing track and trace systems, rather than as any sort of replacement, at least initially.

It now needs multiple users to broaden acceptance.

"The technology isn’t as sophisticated as you think," Palazzolo says.

"We built in a very short period of time with a pilot and we could certainly invest and build it for the industry if they wanted to have an industry solution.

"But alternatively, you can go out and build your own EPCIS and develop it.

"As long as you are using the single set of global standards, it will be interoperable with everyone else."

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