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Thai Shrimp Exporters Use RFID for Automation, Traceability

The technology helps the companies reduce labor costs and improve the ability to trace the foods' origin and processing in the event of a product recall.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 12, 2007Two Thai shrimp exporters are using an RFID system to improve their ability to quickly and accurately trace the shrimp they sell, from the time the product arrives at processing plants, until it is exported to customers in Japan, European countries and the United States. The companies are employing the technology to reduce labor costs by replacing manual, paper-based shrimp-tracking systems with automated, electronic ones. Additionally, RFID will enable the firms to speed and improve their ability to trace the food's origin, processing and expiry data in the event of a product recall. The companies believe the technology will provide its customers—and, ultimately, consumers—confidence in the freshness of their products.

The two companies are Chanthaburi Frozen Food and Charoen Pokphand Foods. Part of the PTN Group conglomerate of large frozen-seafood export businesses, Chanthaburi is one of Thailand's largest exporters of shrimp, which is a major source of revenue for that country. Charoen Pokphand Foods is a family-owned agribusiness company that also maintains retail and telecommunications holdings.

The two shrimp exporters are using RFID to more quickly and accurately trace the shrimp they sell.

Both companies worked with IE Technology, a Thai RFID application developer and systems integrator, to design and deploy the systems. Forty readers and 4,000 plastic totes with embedded RFID tags are used at each site, though business processes differ somewhat from one plant to the other. The tags and readers operate at low frequency (134.2 kHz) and are compliant with the ISO 11785 air-interface protocol for tags used in livestock and other animal-tracking applications. The chips can hold up to 1024 bits of data, says Apiwat Thongprasert, a consultant with IE Technology's business-development division, and are manufactured by Thai chipmaker Silicon Craft Technology.

The steps workers follow vary between the plants, where raw shrimp product can be turned into hundreds of different end products—some to be shipped as cooked goods, others to be sent out fresh and frozen. At the Charoen Pokphand plant, which processes an average of approximately 30 tons of shrimp per day, the totes are encoded and tracked only through raw shrimp processes. These include the receipt of raw seafood, washing, initial sizing (with the head attached), de-heading, secondary sizing of the headless shrimp, peeling, cutting, dipping and soaking, and freezing. At Chanthaburi, the shrimp are tracked through the raw and cooked stages, but only 80 percent of the average 40 tons of shrimp the plant processes are currently tracked with RFID.

At both plants, workers encode basic information to the tote tags as the shrimp is first received at the processing plant. This data includes a code indicating the shrimp's type and farm of origin, as well as size and other data. To encode the information to the tags, and also to read the tags, workers use a large handheld computer with an integrated RFID reader, developed by IE Technology.

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