First Ever Printable 5G Smart Label

UK-based Reelables has developed the first shipping label embedded with a 5G tracking device.

Image credits: Reelables

Reelables announced the launch of 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 very 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, finally allowing precise piece-level tracking of billions of shipments.

The pandemic put a great strain on thes upply 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 either 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 is the first to bring to market a printable, cellular label that is so thin and flexible, that it can be printed on like ordinary labels in thermal barcode printers. The magic happens in thermal barcode printers, capable of activating and provisioning the labels at scale, without pressing buttons or cutting to activate. That means it can be used wherever shipping labels are already being printed, by just changing standard label media to Reelables. No new workflows or processes, or training is needed.

Read more: Biodegradable Printed Paper Batteries for Medical Wearables

A key part of the core technology is the integration of a coated zinc battery on the exact 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, 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.”

About Reelables

Reelables makes the only printable 5G label available in the world. It is the first company to achieve mass production of a brand-new category of thin film, wireless smart labels with coated batteries that are flexible enough to be printed on in off-the-shelf barcode printers and fully disposable after use. Offering both paper-thin Bluetooth and 5G smart labels, Reelables automates supply chain and logistics visibility at scale for logistics providers, retailers, and manufacturers, providing exact shipment location and inventory counts for each item without the need to manually scan barcodes or read RFIDs. Its ability to track shipments and inventory at the item level helps companies reduce theft and loss and increase accountability.

Sam Draper
December 20, 2023

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