by Zsolt Kemény and Marcell Szathmári
Today's trends in industrial production are marked by heterogeneous conglomerates such as production networks, and rapidly changing customer requirements. In order to improve competitiveness in such a production scene, tracking and tracing of both goods and data must remain efficient across company borders. This is, however, associated with a high investment burden, given today's technological background. The EU-funded project 'TraSer' aims at reducing these costs by providing free, open-source solutions for tracking and tracing across company borders.
In responding to more intricate customer demands, today's industrial production has to deliver more than a mere product, since in numerous cases, customers wish to receive up-to-date information about the status of their individual orders. Moreover, the custom-tailored production of items is spreading, even in areas where simple 'make-to-stock' policies used to prevail in the past. All these trends necessitate the improvement or introduction of item-level support for tracking (what is the status of the item itself, eg where it is located during delivery) and tracing (what happens to the item with respect to production processes, eg what other product is it built into). Given today's heterogeneous production networks, these solutions often have to reach beyond company borders while still providing services in a uniform way. While technically feasible solutions have emerged in the past, in most cases they are suitable only for large companies, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) still find it difficult to join such tracking and tracing efforts, even though participating in them could be vital for groups of cooperating small companies.
In order to overcome these difficulties by providing a more SME-friendly solution platform, the international research project 'TraSer' (Identity-Based Tracking and Web-Services for SMEs) was started in June 2006. The efforts are planned to culminate in the creation of an open-source TraSer community. Through its Web services, this will assist the targeted group of users (mainly SMEs) to improve their efficiency while operating in changing environments such as supply-chains, service operations and project delivery networks. The main output of the project, the TraSer open-source platform, is based on experience gained during earlier work at the Helsinki University of Technology, the development of the DIALOG system (see the DIALOG Project Website, http://dialog.hut.fi). The expected benefits are as follows:
- A low initial investment will be needed, as users will be able to set up a basic product-centric tracking service with components available for free at the open-source community.
- Lean implementation and maintenance will be possible, as the application of the solution platform is meant to be simple, not requiring many IT specialist staff.
- By allowing the use of the 'ID@URI' item identification scheme, as already employed in the DIALOG project, it will be possible to spare the costs of ID registration, since – in contrast to present-day proprietary ID providers – the participants can manage distributed unique ID allocation on their own. In addition, up-to-date status information on the items will be stored by the manufacturer in charge (as opposed to paying for centralized tracking services provided by third parties), making a further reduction of operating costs possible.
- The TraSer solution platform is intended to guarantee maximal compatibility with legacy and low-end standard systems, as the community will provide the tools for embedding new tracking and tracing services into existing software environments, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP). It will also be possible to adapt the item identification scheme to legacy systems, meaning it will become feasible to integrate traditional numbering schemes already in use by one or more partners. As a further concession to 'as-is' situations, detailed and freely available documentation will allow companies to re-implement parts of the solution platform within a software environment of their choice if they wish to reduce the diversity of software technologies used in their own system.
- Companies using TraSer will have easier access to current logistics data and the RFID and barcode readers of service providers, as TraSer will deliver guidelines and standards which, when followed, will ensure interchangeability with information from other SMEs and logistics service providers (LSPs).
In addition, the following outputs are planned for the project:
reports on the implementation cases
descriptions of specific SME business scenarios, and models of the potential benefits of developing product-centric applications in these scenarios
advancing theory on product-centric service innovation, the evolution paths for product-centric information architectures and applications.
This project has been funded for three years by the 6th Framework Programme of the EU. It is a collaboration between SZTAKI (project leader), the Helsinki University of Technology and the University of Groningen (RuG) representing the academic sector, with industrial partners Innotec Magyar Kft., Finland Post Corporation, Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and Wittmann & Partners Computer Systems. These commercial organisations share practical background knowledge and provide a testing terrain for the first application cases of TraSer. Further information about the project can be obtained at the official TraSer website or by contacting the representatives of the participating organisations.
Elisabeth Ilie-Zudor and Zsolt Kemény
Tel: +36 1 279 6195
E-mail: iliesztaki.hu, kemenysztaki.hu