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Tesco and RWD Track Milk Deliveries

The retailer and its dairy supplier are using RFID to track roll cages carrying bottles and cartons at a Robert Wiseman Dairies plant and distribution center, and at two Tesco stores.
By Jonathan Collins
Jun 19, 2006Robert Wiseman Dairies (RWD), a supplier to U.K. supermarket chain Tesco, has tagged approximately 500 of its 250,000 roll cages in a trial tracking goods by means of tagged roll cages and dollies.

RWD supplies Tesco with milk and cream products. By carrying out an early asset-tracking trial in the Tesco supply chain, both companies hope to show that RFID has a role to play with high-volume, low-margin products—even where the product is unfriendly to RF signals. Liquids absorb signals between RFID interrogators and tags.

Tesco says its work with RWD is a separate project from its asset-tracking Unit of Delivery program (see Revises RFID Plans). "The UOD project is focused on the internal Tesco supply chain—that is, delivery of cages from a Tesco depot to a Tesco store," says Deborah Watson, a spokesperson for the retailer. "The RWD trial is a collaborative project with RWD, and is focused on the end-to-end supply chain for RWD products, which are delivered direct to store."

RWD is a member of the Tesco Supplier Working Group, formed in November 2004. It procures, bottles and delivers a large percentage of liquid milk sold at Tesco stores in Great Britain.

The trial began in January of this year and is expected to run for at least 12 months. RWD is using RFID to track roll cages carrying bottles and cartons of milk from its dairy, through its own distribution center in Manchester and on to two Tesco stores.

As it had done prior to the start of the trial, the company automatically loads its roll cages to match Tesco store orders. Now, however, items loaded into the cages are associated with the unique EPC number of the EPC Gen 1 UHF passive tag mounted on the cage. The tags are provided by Integrated Product Intelligence (IPI), and the cages used are painted purple to make them easily distinguishable.

RWD-deployed readers (interrogators), supplied by ADT, read the tagged cages at four other points besides the cage loading area. These readings take place as the cages leave the dairy, arrive and depart from RWD's Manchester distribution center and return empty to the dairy.

At each of the two Tesco stores, ADT's RFID interrogators read the roll cages to ensure they are, in fact, slated for delivery to that store. Readers between the stores' back rooms and the shop floor allow both Tesco and RWD to know when stock is moved to the floor. The two companies share access to an OATSystems application that collects, filters, stores and distributes data from each reader. To automate the receiving process of deliveries at the two stores, RWD uses the application to transmit an EPC manifest to Tesco via the Internet, detailing orders set for delivery, along with the associated cage numbers.

"What is key for all of us in this trial," says Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe, OATSystems' managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, "is that the supplier and retailer are automatically sending RFID data in both directions. When a truck leaves RWD to make a delivery, Tesco knows exactly what to expect. In return, RWD can see the movement of its roll cages within the Tesco estate." That level of tracking should also provide RWD with a way to monitor and protect its assets, as well as increase visibility into what has been received into Tesco stores.

"The RWD project is still very much a trial, and we are still on a steep learning curve," says Watson. "We are working with RWD and our suppliers to develop an integrated solution. This will hopefully help us form the basis for collaborative projects and solutions with other suppliers."
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