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Reelables Launches Smart Shipping Labels

Reelables printable 5G Smart Labels function as the tracking device and are connected to a cellular network so shipments can be tracked as they move through the supply chain.

Reelables

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Reelables has launched its new 5G Smart Labels, the only printable 5G label solution in the world for logistics providers, cargo forwarders, and retailers to track shipments at the piece level as they move through the supply chain. For the first time, the label itself functions as the tracking device connected to a cellular network.

It's also an industry-first in the field of printed electronics to fabricate an active LPWAN device with coated zinc batteries that share a common paper-thin wireless circuit. Reelables has achieved the ability to mass manufacture the smart label so thin and flexible that it can be printed in volume from off-the-shelf barcode printers, allowing precise piece level tracking of billions of shipments.

The pandemic put a great strain on the supply chain and demonstrated the need for better visibility to prevent fraud, loss and missing items. In 2022, a global report indicated that nearly one in 10 consumers suffered parcel theft or loss during a 12-month period, equating to more than one billion packages.

Until now, tracing goods as they move through the supply chain has largely been a black box. Barcodes require manual scanning, and shipment information may need to be entered by hand at various points in the supply chain, both leading to potential human error. The result is often a mismatch between the record of information and reality. A worker could simply miss a scan or steal a package. If that’s a box of pharmaceuticals, or high value goods, it becomes a very costly problem. Legacy GPS tracking devices are not a great alternative as they are expensive, necessitate out-of-process workflows, and require reverse logistics.

Reelables labels automatically collect actual location data from the cellular network data and trigger events the moment a shipment arrives or departs a warehouse or waypoint, or an exception is detected. They also generate inventory counts, providing a complete warehouse audit nearly every minute or less. With Reelables, logistics providers and end users, such as retailers and manufacturers, know in real time where every piece-level item is in the supply chain with 100% accuracy.

How the 5G Smart Label Works

The underlying technology is a reel-to-reel, thin-film manufacturing process that enables Reelables to make ultra-thin and extremely cost-efficient wireless circuits into smart labels. The initial offering is a chipset level integration of NB-IoT, with LTE-M to soon follow as part of the 5G family of LPWAN technologies. 

Reelables’ printable, cellular label is so thin and flexible it can be printed on like ordinary labels in thermal barcode printers. The thermal barcode printers are capable of activating and provisioning the labels at scale, without pressing buttons or cutting to activate. That means they can be used wherever shipping labels are already being printed, just by changing standard label media to Reelables. No new workflows, processes or training is needed.

A key part of the core technology is the integration of a coated zinc battery on the same substrate shared with a wireless circuit. That’s what enables the thin and flexible form-factor of the smart label and its thermal printability. This is a big differentiator for Reelables, compared to companies that are still using conventional lithium batteries in their tracking devices. Lithium is also classified as a dangerous good, which is problematic for high volume applications and safe air transport.

For manufacturers or retailers who are shipping time-critical, high value goods, and don’t control the infrastructure along their logistics corridors, the Reelables 5G smart label solution is ideal. These businesses are accountable for demonstrating to their customers that items are arriving when they’ve promised. 

“This is a major breakthrough when it comes to supply chain visibility and automation,” said Brian Krejcarek, CEO and Co-Founder of Reelables. “Achieving mass production and pervasive deployment of these thin film wireless smart labels will change how businesses track items, reduce theft and loss, and demonstrate accountability to their customers. We are excited to bring this to market now so retailers and manufacturers can start printing these labels at scale and lighting up under-utilized LPWAN network capacity with a killer application: tracking the billions of shipments that are made every year around the world.”

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