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Swiss Food Co-op Deploys RFID to Automate Shipment Tracking

Thanks to RFID tags attached to returnable containers, Migros' East Switzerland regional cooperative knows which refrigerated goods are being loaded onto which truck, and can intervene if a mistake is being made, while stores can also access that data to check the status of their orders.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 09, 2014

Migros Ostschweiz (East Switzerland), one of the 10 regional cooperatives belonging to Swiss supermarket chain Migros, is employing radio frequency identification technology to automate the confirmation of which goods are loaded onto vehicles destined for particular stores, and when this occurs. By using the solution, known as Load Unit Identification and Positioning, or LUIDO (LU-Paletten Identifikation und Ortung), the company can ensure that forklift drivers need not visually verify that they have the correct load, move boxes to do so, or scan bar codes. Instead, they can merely proceed with going about their job of moving goods from the staging area onto trucks, while receiving an alert in the event of a mistake.

Tomislav Pavicic, Migros Ostschweiz's supply chain architect, says that his company's adoption of LUIDO is one part of a wider restructuring of the logistics enterprise architecture. The company had recently introduced an Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS)-based database (repository), as a basic component to collect data regarding shipments' movements and locations.

A "virtual handling unit," also known as a load unit, consists of pallets loaded with multiple RTIs.
Migros, the largest retail company in Switzerland, is run as a cooperative, and counts a quarter of the nation's total population of 8 million as members. Each regional cooperative is run independently, while a central organization, Migros Genossenschafts Bund (MGB), manages shared functionalities, which includes managing a pool of 10 million returnable transport items (RTI) and the RFID-tagging of those containers. The regional cooperatives manage their own manufacturing operations, such as meat processing, as well as distribution and warehouse operations. Products also arrive at the facilities from external Migros manufacturing locations and third-party suppliers. The Migros Ostschweiz distribution center in Gossau features a high level of automation. It operates its own trucks to transport goods to stores, in some cases delivering up to eight loads of fruit, vegetables, milk, cheese, fish and other perishable foods to a single store on a given day.

Migros Ostschweiz ships 6,000 pallets of goods daily, and each pallet can include more than 100 plastic RTIs filled with products. The pallets are shipped out of 120 dock doors, 29 of which are located within a refrigerated area in which dairy products, meats and other goods are kept cold prior to transportation. The Migros Ostschweiz DC already uses RFID technology on the conveyor systems in its own meat-processing operation, as well as in perishable picking and RTI packing areas. Late last year, it began working with RFID solutions provider Vilant Systems to devise an automated method of managing the loading of goods onto trucks, initially at the refrigerated area.

Daniel Balmer, Migros Ostschweiz's director of transport logistics
The company sought a solution that would track what is loaded onto each vehicle destined for a particular store, but it did not want the system to interfere with workers. According to Antti Virkkunen, a Vilant cofounder who manages Central European operations from Vilant's Swiss office, Migros Ostschweiz's philosophy is that forklift drivers should be allowed to carry out their jobs as they always do, including picking up "virtual handling units," also known as load units (consisting of pallets loaded with multiple RTIs), from the staging area and then loading them onto the appropriate trucks. The onboard computers are used to receive alerts regarding detected exceptions. The company's management wanted to disrupt that process only if a mistake was about to be made, such as parking a vehicle at the wrong dock or loading the incorrect pallet onto a truck.

"The great benefit of our RFID implementation is that we can support our employees without increasing their workload," explains Daniel Balmer, Migros Ostschweiz's director of transport logistics. "They do not have to enter data or manipulate systems, which would be the case for bar-code scanning. It would be an impossible increase in workload to track 6,000 pallets daily in any manual way."

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