Image Tracking Across the Entire Supply Chain

image tracking supply chain

A picture is worth a thousand words and a story is worth a thousand pictures. It’s little wonder, then, that people often long to describe a problem with a picture. In their personal lives, technology savvy people snap a picture and send it off to get a problem solved. And yet, within the supply chain, no vendor has included end-to-end image tracking for stock keeping units (SKUs) as part of the base functionality of their product.

In the early days of our company, we shared information about our minimum viable product (MVP) within our network. A West coast manufacturer was interested in testing our product, so we did a pilot in the organization’s warehouse and everyone there loved it. During a pilot post mortem, the customer shared headaches associated with chargebacks.

These folks ship a lot to Walmart, Target, Macys, and several other retailers and charge backs amounted to $300,000 annually. Our picture-based documentation capability could at least reduce charge backs to a reasonable level. Prior to system implementation, a camera operator with a single camera went to the outbound shipping dock to take pictures of every shipment leaving the facility. This worker’s day consisted of loading the pictures from a memory card to a PC, putting them into a shared folder for everyone to access, and then going back to the loading dock to take more pictures.

Unfortunately, this process created a bottleneck, especially during the peak shipping time in the evenings when shipments get ready to leave. The single operator/single camera system was simply too slow. In the end, the company abandoned the process, deciding that it created more problems than it solved. The goal behind taking pictures was to document and show customers that the shipment left their facility intact. If the vendor claimed issues when the shipment arrived at their end, it was documented that the goods had left the dock in good condition. It put the problem of the charge back squarely with the transportation service rather than the manufacturer. With the new system, every operator had a wearable device that could take a picture as an integral part of the loading process, and then execute the close load function in the warehouse management system (WMS).

Sample management for sales people offers another use case for picture-based documentation. Apparel manufacturers struggle with sending the right samples especially when an assortment of products is needed (i.e. belt, jeans, t-shirt, etc.).  A small error in the Universal Product Code (UPC) number is going to make the manufacturer look really bad. Often while working through potential sales deals, even the UPC is not solidified because the merchandiser has only samples. Upon receipt of the purchase order, the manufacturer makes more units, assigns a UPC, and incorporates it into the supply chain system. Image tracking would support tracking samples, whether clothes or electronic components. Each user in the chain can take a look at the image and ensure that is the correct product that is sent to the sales people or potential customer.

Another use case can be culled from looking at the processes of another customer, a leading massage and relaxation products maker with many FDA compliant SKUs. In any industry with compliance concerns, the need to track and document is paramount. In this case, the FDA requires that every document pertaining to a return be readily available in case of legal questions. By imaging all paperwork and storing as a PDF, users can make retrieval of documentation simple. Each image is linked to the respective Return ASNs for tracking.

With strong imaging capabilities, end-to-end image tracking is easy from PO and ASN through to the receiving, put away and shipping processes. Any discrepancies in between can be captured and associated with a case number, SKU, location or any unique entity that sits within the WMS.

What areas in the electronics supply chain do you see that could be improved by picture or video based documentation? Let us know in the comments section below.

Puga Sankara is the co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC. Smart Gladiator designs, builds, and delivers market-leading mobile technology for retailers, distributors, and 3PL service providers. SG LoadProof is a patent pending Centralized Enterprise Photo/Video Document System on Cloud for Supply Chain. SG LP is built on the fact that photos & videos are vital docs as important as POs/SOs/Legal Contracts/Fulfillment Orders that reside in ERP/WMS/TMS systems, that serve as compelling, conclusive, unequivocal proof of crucial, critical, vital operations executed in Supply Chain within/across orgs when fulfilling customer orders as well as meeting contractual obligations between orgs as merchandise is transferred between different parties that partake in Supply Chain functions & operations. And these photos/videos data should not be stored in someone’s Smartphone or Email Inbox or in their personal/work Computer, but should be stored in a Centralized Enterprise system, where such data can be pushed into super-fast, stored securely, accessible to all stake holders (CFO/Sales Reps/Customer Support/AR/AP) in an org, as well as facilitates super-fast retrieval/sharing. LP is an Enterprise System of record for Photo/Video docs & is as important as an ERP which is an enterprise system of record for POs, SOs, Legal Contracts between parties etc. that have huge legal ramifications, also as important as a WMS (Warehouse Management System) that hold indispensable shipment & fulfillment data on orders. Like how Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc. have evolved into social media platforms/systems that enable individuals to showcase their beauty/pretty clothes/lovely cosmetics/hep coolness etc., LoadProof is an Enterprise system that holds similar photos/videos, but for a different reason, not for show off, but to serve as compelling, conclusive, unequivocal & indisputable system of record and proof that can be presented even in the court of law, when there is a dispute between parties while they execute many facets of the Supply Chain functions & operations. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 25 years of experience in deploying capabilities in the logistics and supply chain domain. His prior roles involved managing complicated mission-critical programs driving revenue numbers, rolling out a multitude of capabilities involving more than a dozen systems, and managing a team of 30 to 50 personnel across multiple disciplines and departments in large corporations such as Hewlett Packard. He has deployed WMS for more than 30 distribution centers in his role as a senior manager with Manhattan Associates. He has also performed process analysis walk-throughs for more than 50 distribution centers for WMS process design and performance analysis review, optimizing processes for better productivity and visibility through the supply chain. Size of these DCs varied from 150,000 to 1.2 million SQFT. Puga Sankara has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit the company at Also follow him at

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