What Are the Different Types of Bill of Lading Tracking?

Helen Akers

Bill of lading tracking is used to provide the current status of shipments sent by ship, freight train, air and ground transportation. Companies and individuals use tracking systems to verify whether a shipment has reached its intended recipient or to retrieve estimated time of arrivals. Most tracking systems are driven by computerized database servers, handheld scanning devices, and web-based status tools. Bill of ladings can be traced by a bill of lading (BL) number, container number, vessel name, or booking number.

Bills of lading allow both shipping companies and customers to track shipments.
Bills of lading allow both shipping companies and customers to track shipments.

The BL or shipment number is one of the most commonly used types of bill of lading tracking. This number is usually assigned by a computer when a shipment invoice is generated. The number is included on the shipping label and may be visually displayed as a barcode that is scanned by handheld computers. Each time the shipment passes through a distribution center or is placed onto a transportation vehicle, the barcode is scanned to provide an update.

A bill of lading tracking number can help the carrier locate a specific item quickly.
A bill of lading tracking number can help the carrier locate a specific item quickly.

Shipping companies and carriers typically use a BL number as a way to give a single shipment or package a unique identifier. When goods are ordered and shipped in bulk, they may be grouped into separate containers. For example, auto parts may be transported on a shipping vessel that is scheduled to deliver several containers to one port. A supply chain network is often able to determine when a customer's order will arrive by tracking the container number the goods are assigned to.

Goods and shipments may also be tracked by the carrier or vehicle name. With this type of bill of lading tracking, the name or number of the vehicle transporting a particular group of shipments is used. For example, a ship's name or a flight number may be entered in the tracking system to obtain a current status. Most computerized tracking systems show who currently has possession of the shipment, including carrier name and vehicle operator number.

Booking numbers are a type of bill of lading tracking used in certain countries and regions. They are similar to a BL or tracking number that identifies individual packages. Booking and BL numbers may contain a series of numbers and letters and are seldom reused. They provide a convenient way for companies to verify that a recipient received an order and prevent financial loss due to claims of lost goods.

The majority of shipping carriers provide web-based applications that allow customers to check the current status of a shipment online. These tools are an important part of a bill of lading tracking system since they automatically generate statuses by number or name. Some companies are beginning to incorporate RFID (radio frequency identification) technology with distribution tracking systems, which expands upon the idea of using unique identification numbers to track the location of goods.

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