Returnable Asset Tracking

November 14 2023

Our mission is to help businesses connect, protect, and derive more value from their assets. As a leading global innovator, developer, and supplier of IoT solutions, we drive continuous innovation to enable our partners to deploy confidently at scale worldwide.

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What is Returnable Asset Tracking?

Returnable Assets, Reusable Assets, or Returnable Transport Items are any type of packaging materials that can be used more than once in the supply chain process, such as containers, bins, crates, pallets, and custom transportation frames, and much more!

Several billion of these assets are deployed worldwide, crossing oceans and continents or simply moving within a single country. They are used in the distribution process to package, protect, and transport physical products.

Businesses use returnable or reusable assets in their supply chain for several reasons:

  • To reduce overall supply chain packaging costs
  • To increase efficiency and productivity
  • To reduce waste, making supply chains greener
  • To better protect products and reduce product damage


Challenges of Manually Tracking Returnable Assets:

Returnable assets are at a high risk of being misplaced or stolen as they are transported from one location to another. Each year, hundreds of returnable assets disappear without a trace while out in transit due to either breaking down, getting lost, being stolen, or sometimes just sitting idle because they have been forgotten!

When compared to single-use assets, the costs of returnable assets can be expensive. Depending on their usage, industry, and customization, they can cost between $200 – $5000 per unit. The need to constantly repurchase assets can have a noticeable impact on a company’s cash flow and makes the point of reusable assets counterintuitive.

Returnable asset tracking manually can require a considerable amount of labor, money, and time. Combining digital solutions with battery-powered GPS devices increases a company’s ability to accurately manage, monitor, and optimize the use of your returnable assets.


IoT Solutions for Returnable Asset Monitoring

It is now more accessible for businesses to track their returnables with IoT. Through technological advancements in device design and improved low-power connectivity options, it has become more affordable for businesses to purchase and implement an IoT tracking solution.

There are several different ways in which you can track your assets using IoT technology. The most common types are:

  • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
  • Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE)
  • Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) – such as GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, etc.


RFID technology uses radio waves to scan RFID tags and retrieve details. These tags are smart labels that can store all types of information, from serial numbers to short descriptions and even pages of data. Handheld devices and fixed-point readers are then required for the RFID tags to be identified. The use of RFID for reusable asset tracking is limited. Assets can only be tracked once they reach a location, they cannot monitor any conditions during transportation (impacts, temperatures, etc.), and the additional infrastructure of scanners can be expensive.


Bluetooth® Low Energy can be used for returnable asset tracking by installing Bluetooth beacons or tags to provide positioning details that are picked up by mobile and fixed gateways. Bluetooth can be more flexible in cost, implementation, and scalability and can locate assets indoors in addition to being able to monitor conditions such as impacts and temperatures of the assets.

This form of returnable asset monitoring is only effective when the Bluetooth gateway can identify the individual tags, beacons, or sensors attached to the returnable asset. Because returnable assets are moving between indoor and outdoor locations frequently, Bluetooth will only provide the location when the assets are within range of a gateway. Unless there are Bluetooth gateways across all locations of your supply chain, your returnable asset monitoring process will have gaps, and your assets are at a higher risk of getting lost, damaged, or stolen.



GNSS allows for returnable assets to be tracked across the world. Using satellites, GPS tags, or devices can track and monitor returnable assets whilst outdoors. Whilst providing an accurate location when outdoors, once the returnable assets are moved inside, the signal is lost or weakened, and their location can no longer be determined.



Digital Matter Solutions for Returnable Asset Tracking and Monitoring

Digital Matter offers the largest range of battery-powered IoT asset tracking devices for returnable asset tracking.

Several of our devices combine the most location-tracking technologies and allow for near real-time tracking at all points of the supply chain process.

  • GNSS is better suited for outdoor tracking!
  • Wi-Fi Positioning works best indoors for returnable asset tracking, as GNSS signals cannot penetrate inside buildings. Wi-Fi positioning uses existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to provide an approximate location.
  • Bluetooth® Low Energy combines gateways with beacons, tags, and sensors, allowing for indoor tracking as well as conditional monitoring such as temperature and impacts.
  • Cell Tower Fallback  Our devices can also utilize cell tower data to locate assets if GNSS and/or Wi-Fi is not available.



Benefits of Battery-Powered

There are many benefits to using battery-powered devices for reusable asset tracking. Our range of battery-powered tracking devices for returnable assets provides accurate location data that can easily be integrated into a comprehensive tracking solution.

‘Deploy once’ battery life on our devices ensures that the device continuously provides data. Easy wire-free installation, as well as plug-and-play GPS tracking devices for returnable assets, make implementation at scale simple for both large and small assets.

The following benefits and applications of battery-powered devices for returnable asset tracking showcase how Digital Matter devices can improve and optimize operations:

  • Asset utilization: Accurately collect data on returnable assets to provide insights and enable businesses to optimize the utilization of their returnable assets
  • Streamline availability of assets: Tracking locations and optimizing maintenance schedules provides immediate knowledge of returnable asset stock, allowing for businesses to make fast and accurate decisions on availability.
  • Prevent theft: If returnable assets such as containers, pallets, bins or crates are moved without authorization, the device will send an alert with the asset’s details and location.
  • Detect impacts: Monitor returnable assets with user-defined thresholds to detect when g-forces are exceeded.

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