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UPS, Zebra customize beacons to cut package loading errors

UPS said it is implementing custom beacons with Zebra Technologies to prevent errors in delivery and “misloaded” packages.

The initiative, called Preload Smart Scan, uses Bluetooth beacons that connect to package scanning devices worn by UPS employees loading packages. Here’s how the beacons work:

  • The scanner — programmed to know where packages belong on a vehicle — read labels.
  • Beacons send signals unique to certain vehicles and position within it.
  • Scanners detect those signals.
  • If a package enters the wrong vehicle, the scanner flags the error.

UPS’ game plan is to cut time spent on misloaded packages, which cost time and money. Drivers with misloaded packages go miles out of the way to correct mistakes. Beacons can cut back re-routes.

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Preload Smart Scan, which started early testing in 2014, is one of multiple projects under UPS’ improvement plan, which uses data and IT to make operations, planning and routes more efficient. UPS said Preload Smart Scan should lead to a 70 percent reduction in misloads. UPS typically loads its vehicles when they are parked only inches from each other. That close proximity can lead to errors.

As for the technology behind the beacons, which is being patented, UPS worked with Zebra to customize the hardware. Generic beacons lacked the signals to work within a close distance inside the car. Typical beacon signals went through the sides of the package cars and delivered bad data.

Zebra worked with UPS to customize the signals with a tight range and longer battery life. Zebra and UPS were able to get five years of battery life for the beacons, which send signals 10 times a second.

The beacons can be configured to match the dimensions of the package car. The networking of Preload Smart Scan relies on the telematics tools used by UPS across the company for analytics and Internet of Things applications. UPS said it will continue to iterate with the technology.

UPS said it will roll out the beacons to 230 US locations and reach 28 percent of its facilities and 47 percent of package cars. UPS, which may offer the tools as a service to other industries, also plans to roll out the technology globally.

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