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East Coast Warehouse Tracks Shipping Containers via RFID

The temperature-controlled warehouse operator has seen a 19 percent increase in productivity since installing a system that uses passive UHF tags to track when containers arrive at its yard, and are inspected, unloaded and returned.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 07, 2016

East Coast Warehouse & Distribution (ECW), a provider of logistics services, has reduced labor costs and boosted productivity via a radio frequency identification solution that tracks the locations of more than 1,000 shipping containers throughout its 60-acre yard.

The solution, known as the Advanced Yard Management System, was provided by PINC Solutions and includes passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags attached to containers, as well as RFID readers installed on yard trucks (switchers), and cloud-based yard-management software, says Rafael Granato, PINC's marketing director.

When a switcher backs a container to a dock door, the RFID reader mounted on the truck documents that action by reading the Omni-ID RFID tag temporarily mounted to that container.
Bob LaMere, ECW's CIO, says his company was able to reduce the number of its switchers from 10 to seven, while still increasing its overall productivity by 19 percent.

ECW operates its food and beverage logistics services site at the Port of New York/New Jersey, in Elizabeth, N.J. The site covers 60 acres, including 1.5 million square feet of refrigerated space. It also has 14.5 acres dedicated to U.S. Customs inspections, where it lines up loaded containers arriving from foreign countries via ship so that customs officials can inspect them. After containers arrive by sea, drayage truck drivers transport them to ECW's site, where workers unload the contents—such as boxed goods on pallets or kegs of beverages—and place them in storage within the company's temperature-controlled warehouses. The emptied containers are then stacked and stored in the yard to be returned to the port terminal by a drayage truck driver.

Managing the complexities of this environment was a difficult task, LaMere says. For the past six years, the company has used its yard-management software to store data regarding which containers were located in which areas, which had gone through customs and which had been unloaded. The system required, however, that warehouse and office personnel manually record data and then input that information into the software, which was a time-consuming process. Typically, he adds, there can be more than 1,100 containers on site, in three different warehouses or at the customs area.

"It worked well functionally" to use the yard-management software, LaMere reports, "unless someone did something they weren't supposed to." For instance, he says, if a switcher driver moved a container but forgot to record that event, that container could be difficult to find at a later time. If any containers remained on site longer than the expected duration, ECW might have to pay a per diem fee for that extra time, so the misplacement of any containers could prove costly.

The company considered multiple technology options, LaMere says, but found PINC's yard-management system to be the best choice. "What I liked about PINC was that it didn't require antennas all around the facility," he states. Instead, readers are installed on the company's switchers, and read data is collected as those vehicles operate around the tagged containers. (Granato declines to name the specific make and model of reader being used on the switchers.)

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