How to Automate Data Extraction From Bill of Lading?

Learn more about how you can automate data extraction from bill of lading with AI technologies like OCR, AI, NLP, and LLM.

 min. read
May 28, 2024
How to Automate Data Extraction From Bill of Lading?

One of the most common and important documents in the freight and logistics world is Bill of Lading (BoL). It’s a legal contract that has to be issued by a carrier and accompany an item on delivery until it reaches its destination, at which point it also becomes a shipment receipt.

All the most crucial details of a shipment are included in a BoL – from the size and weight of the goods to its intended destination and consignee. For anyone whose business involves sending and delivering parcels, processing BoLs is its own job entirely and can be a major administrative headache. Unless of course, extracting the relevant Bill of Lading data becomes an automated process.

Bill of Lading OCR is a game changer because it doesn’t simply extract texts from bill of lading but delivers all necessary information in structured formats such as CSV or JSON files for further analysis. In this blog post, we will talk about how Bill of Lading OCR operates and the benefits it offers as a time, error, and money saver.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is a technology that can convert images of typed, printed, or handwritten text into machine-encoded texts. However, the results aren’t structured as OCR itself is not capable of understanding the context of the text. To make the process more automated, other AI technologies, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), Machine Learning (ML), and Large Language Model (LLM), are integrated into a single solution called Intelligent Document Processing, which can not only extract the texts, but more importantly turn them into structured data that can be used directly by other software for workflow automation or data analysis.

Bill of Lading OCR, therefore, refers to a IDP solution that can extract relevant data from bill of lading and return structured data to automate data entry.

Most Bill of Lading documents contain extensive information, all of which need to be extracted and validated before being added to central shipping systems. Performing this work manually requires significant attention to detail and labor hours. To make matters worse, they may be a common document, but they do not have a standard format.

Data fields can differ between courier companies with language variation adding yet another complication. The result is a very important legal document that is often time-consuming and challenging to process manually.

Unfortunately, traditional rule-based extraction tools haven’t provided an easy solution either. The same formatting and file type variations that make manual data extraction tricky also create a hurdle for rule-based methods. BoLs can arrive as scanned images, PDFs, emails, etc. making it difficult to build a rule-based tool that can accurately operate across all scenarios.

In contrast, Bill of Lading OCR uses AI to intelligently automate the entire process so that no matter the format or file type of a document, the data is extracted quickly and made easily available in structured formats.

Here are some of the key benefits of using Bill of Lading OCR and the ways in which the AI tools that power it can change how the freight industry handles data extraction:

No More Delays

Administrative delays can quickly become delivery delays which is a nightmare for both courier companies needing to get parcels out of the warehouse, and their waiting customers.

Bill of lading data extraction can be a slow process when done manually but OCR speeds things up so that the data is extracted in a timeous manner and no parcel is left sitting while someone tries to get to that BoL at the bottom of the pile.

More Efficiency Across the Board

By improving such a central step in the courier and delivery process, Bill of Lading OCR helps streamline overall operational efficiency. A BoL is the guiding document for parcel transport and delivery so when it's handled quickly and accurately, it means that all the activity relying on that information can occur more swiftly too.

Lower Costs

Hiring enough staff to keep up with Bill of Lading data extraction can be a very expensive endeavor, especially as companies expand. Automated solution like Intelligent Document Processing on the other hand is scalable and much cheaper than performing things manually. This kind of automation also limits costs by ensuring greater accuracy when it comes to data extraction and as such, fewer expensive errors.

Fewer Errors

Human fallibility is a fact of life. We get things wrong and unfortunately, when the thing we get wrong is inputting the incorrect shipment information from a BoL into a company-wide system, the consequence can be a parcel that’s meant for Missouri ending up in Muskoka.

Automating data extraction with Bill of Lading OCR drastically reduces the chance of errors occurring which is another way in which it reduces delays and streamlines efficiency for courier and freight companies.

Better Report Generation

We’ve spoken about how much data BoLs tend to hold, but the company value of that data isn’t simply about keeping track of a parcel. It also has the potential to provide highly valuable insights into how a business is operating, especially from a logistics angle.

With Bill of Lading OCR, the information in these documents is extracted and delivered in structured formats such as JSON and CSV files so that the full power of the data can be maximized with analytical tools. Generating reports and gaining insight into the data becomes so much easier and, as a result, can help shape improvements down the line.

The FormX Bill of Lading OCR tool is designed to seamlessly handle the full scope of information that BoLs typically include. Some of the main data extraction options we have on FormX include:

  • Shipment date and tracking information eg. waybill number and ID.
  • Shipper details, including their address and contact details.
  • Carrier information such as their name (eg FedEx), address, etc.
  • The consignee’s details such as their name, address, and phone number.
  • For freight cargo, we can extract data regarding freight weight, width, condition, etc.

… And much more. For an even more extensive look at what our Bill of Lading OCR covers, click here.

Even though the formats of bill of lading vary greatly, FormX utilizes AI technologies like OCR, ML, NL, and LLM like GPT-4 to help logistics businesses like freight forwarders automate data extraction from bill of lading and other documents like receipts, invoices, and more. Follow the instructions below to begin automating data extraction from bill of lading with FormX.

Step 1. Sign Up for Free Trial

You can sign up for a free trial to start setting up your Bill of Lading OCR or extractor as we call it.

Step 2. Create Your Bill of Lading Extractor

FormX has created several ready-to-use extractors, such as Government ID / Passport, Invoice, Receipts, Bank Statement, and Bill of Lading, for our users to use without having to train a new extractor from scratch.

When creating a new extractor, click on “Bill of Lading (Preview)” to create your BoL extractor.

Step 3. Select Auto Extraction Items

After creating your BoL extractor, you can select the data fields, or extraction items, that you want the extractor to automatically extract for you. Custom extraction items can also be created to meet your business needs.

Step 4. Set Up Formatter to Modify the Extracted (Optional)

If you wish to automatically process the extracted data, we’ve also created a tool called Formatter for you to do so. You can remove certain characters, only keep a certain language, or declare date format. More actions are coming in the future!

Step 5. Test Your Bill of Lading Extractor

After setting up your extractor, you can upload sample BoLs to check the extracted result.

Step 6. Integrate FormX with Your Software

After you have tested out your extractor, you can then integrate the it with your software using RESTful API to automate data extraction of bill of lading. The images will be sent to the API endpoint "https://worker.formextractorai.com/extract" with the Form ID and Access Token. You will see the extracted information in the API response. The information can be found in the “Extract” tab.

BoLs aren’t just important for freight and logistics operations, they’re the central paper trail in the whole system. One data extraction error and everything can be thrown off course. Thankfully, that’s an issue with manual systems that OCR or IDP can solve.

FormX’s Bill of Lading OCR removes the need for manual data extraction which means less spending on staff, a lower risk of mistakes being made, and as a result, fewer shipping delays caused by administrative issues. Added to all this, OCR makes it far easier to perform further analysis on Bill of Lading data which only benefits operations further.

If you’re interested in improving the efficiency of how Bill of Lading data is extracted and handled, click here to start a free trial with FormX and see our tools at work for yourself or contact us to help us learn more about your logistics business and how FormX can be of help to it.