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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

For the solution, Vilant provided the RFID hardware, along with its Visibility Manager software. Visibility Manager receives data about each shipment from Migros Ostschweiz's central EPCIS-based database, identifies a tagged RTI's location and the direction in which it is moving, and then transmits the load event data back to the EPCIS repository. "Exceptions are alerted to the users immediately by the RFID system, for immediate corrective actions," Balmer explains.

Migros Genossenschafts Bund permanently applied washable passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags from a variety of vendors to the RTIs, Virkkunen says. A pair of tags—identically encoded and printed with the same serialized Global Returnable Asset Identifier (GRAI)—are attached to each container (there are seven different types and sizes of RTIs), which is packed with goods according to store orders, and is then stacked on a pallet in order to create a virtual handling unit. The automation systems automatically input data about the goods being packed within the container, so that management knows not only which containers are destined for which store, but also what is packed in those shipments.

An RFID tag, attached to one of Migros' returnable transport items
Once the pallets are fully loaded with RTIs, they are stored in the staging area to await a truck at the appropriate dock door, and a forklift to load them onto those trucks.

Each forklift also comes with two RFID tags attached. When an operator picks up loaded pallets, typically two at a time, it then moves to the appropriate dock door and loads the pallets onto the truck. An Impinj Speedway Revolution reader and antenna installed overhead at the dock door by Vilant captures the ID numbers of as many RTI tags as it can, and forwards that data to the Vilant Visibility Manager software. The reader also captures the IDs of the forklift's RFID tags. The software's Vilant Engine component identifies the direction in which the tags are moving, and surmises which pallet is being placed on the truck, as well as which forklift is doing the work.

The key to this system, Virkkunen explains, is that a 100 percent read rate of the RTIs' tags is unnecessary. Although the system is collecting approximately 70 percent of the tag IDs, an even lower percentage enables the Vilant software to determine which virtual handling unit is being loaded at any given time.

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