What could be more natural than for a company
to want to know, in real time, at what precise place, at which stage
of delivery and in what state its cargo is to be found? The European
project Octopus has analysed this kind of problem in relation to
a specific set of operations, namely the transportation of reams
of paper from Finland to Belgium and France for the printing of
newspapers. "This research has made it possible to use and
demonstrate new technologies for tracking goods in real time - what
is commonly known as tracking and tracing", explains
Patrick Mercier-Handisyde of the Transport Directorate-General.
"For these partners, it is of course extremely important to
have real-time information on the progress of these goods from their
production site to the final consumer. In this way they can manage
their storage and distribution terminals properly and, above all,
can react very swiftly if there is any break in the supply chain."
Ten or so companies from the paper industry, logistics, transport
and information technologies put their heads together to define
the architecture of a system for monitoring goods adapted to their
requirements, but which would also be transferable to other sectors.
On the operational level, the Finnish paper company Enso and the
Swedish paper company Holmen wanted to have a system to cover the
various links in their supply chain, one leaving the Finnish territory
to transport goods by sea to Antwerp and then by rail to Rouen (France),
the other following a similar course from Sweden, with Lyons as
the final destination. Along this delivery chain there were naturally
a number of logistics service providers and transport operators,
such as Enso West in Antwerp, the Finnish transport company Steveco,
and Westerlund, a group specialised in the distribution of forestry
With the aid of information technology specialists, such as Medior
Software and the Babbage Institute for Knowledge and Information
Technology, these companies set up a common platform which was distributed
and modulable, making it possible for them to easily communicate
among themselves to identify and track goods all along the logistic
chain from the factory to the consumer.
"Up to now these European companies have been faced with different
intermediaries in their land and sea transport operations who quite
often use different communication protocols and different methods
of identification to monitor and track cargo", points out Hugo
Manshoven, coordinator of the project and a member of the IT Medior
Software company. "It is difficult for them, therefore, to
follow their goods with clarity unless they use burdensome techniques
such as EDI (Electronic Data Interchange)(1)".
Identifying and communicating
To remedy this, the Octopus system incorporates two closely interconnected
levels. The first is a system for identifying and collecting information,
named OctEt, developed in the form of electronic labels and read/write-terminals
which identify goods and their progress on their route. This has
been installed on the various links of the transport chain. The
second is an open and decentralised communication system known as
OctoPost, which treats this information and distributes it by electronic
mail in a transparent way (that is to say, accessible - whatever
the computer systems and the mail software used) to operators who
wish to know the status of their cargo. Like a task organiser, OctoPost
makes it possible to have a real monitoring of the various stages
of delivery. "One of the advantages of this system is that
it is distributed and not hierarchised (2)like
Internet, and has no centre since it is a network between different
terminals", stresses Dirk Vervenne (Babbage Institute, Ghent).
"Its reliability does not depend on a centralised server -
which would jeopardise the communication processes - but on the
integration of small servers and on-site distributed terminals,
guaranteeing maximum accessibility and cooperation".
Tailor-made for intermodal transport
Furthermore, this approach is very well adapted to intermodal transport,
the development of which is being encouraged by the European Union.
If modes of transport, different handling operations and intermediaries
are multiplied, it will be essential for companies to have a reliable
and efficient tracing and tracking system. This opens
up interesting prospects for the marketing of a system such as Octopus.
So, with the help of a Greek information technology company known
as Archetypon, substantial efforts were made to make this technology
as generic as possible for it to be transposed to economic sectors
other than the paper industry. In this way it was possible to test
it - successfully - also on the transport of office furniture and
supplies from Greece to Germany.
(1) In this instance
EDI is a dialogue between the computer of a manufacturer and that
of a distributor which communicate via applications which structure
information and insert data. Such a system requires the setting-up
of reception stations and agreement on the standards used.
(2) From the English word heterarchic, which has no French translation,
but which is to be interpreted in opposition to the adjective hierarchic.
Towards distributed heterarchic workflow methods for pro-active
tracing of cargo
Scientific coordinator :
Medior Software, Pulderbos, Belgium
Fax : +32-3-464 02 96
Babbage Institute, Ghent, Belgium
E-mail : email@example.com
- Medior Software, Pulderbos, Belgium (coordinator)
- Babbage Institute for Knowledge and Information Technology,
- TietoEnator, Espoo, Finland
- Archetypon, Kallithea, Greece
- StoraEnso West, Antwerp, Belgium
- StoraEnso Oy, Helsinki, Finland
- Holmen Paper, Norrkping, Sweden
- Vartec, Ghent, Belgium
- Steveco Oy, Kotka, Finland
- Westerlund Corporation, Antwerp, Belgium
Like a task organiser, OctoPost makes it possible to have a true
monitoring of the various stages of delivery.