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Euro Pool System Tags Reusable Crates

Euro Pool System is running an RFID pilot involving EPC Class 1 Gen 2 RFID tags molded into the bottoms of foldable plastic crates, enabling it to track the containers more quickly and efficiently.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jul 23, 2007Euro Pool System, a provider of reusable containers used primarily for fruit, vegetables and other products, is implementing passive UHF RFID tags and readers to help improve its overall logistics and inventory processes.

Euro Pool System is headquartered in Belgium, with facilities in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The company began looking to RFID as early as 2003, says Henry Lok, Euro Pool System's manager of engineering and development, hoping to employ the technology to improve and streamline its overall logistics.

Specifically, the company was drawn to RFID because the technology would not require line-of-sight scanning, unlike the linear and two-dimensional bar codes it also uses. Euro Pool System transports hundreds of orders for containers every day to and from various countries in Europe, and owns more than 88 million containers, which it uses to carry at least 414 million separate shipments per year.

Euro Pool System contracted Hewlett-Packard's Business and IT Services arm, HP Services, which just recently opened a new RFID Solutions Center in Milan, Italy, in collaboration with Intel, Microsoft and the School of Management and the Department of Electronics and Information at Polytechnic of Milan. There, HP consultants tested tags, readers and middleware to develop an RFID system that would work at Euro Pool System's distribution depots.

Now, Euro Pool System is running an RFID pilot at its newest depot, in Zellik, Belgium, leveraging EPC Class 1 Gen 2 RFID tags molded into the bottoms of foldable plastic crates. Installation of the Zellik pilot started in January 2006. With the crates being moved on pallets that hold up to 304 crates at a time. RFID-enabled portals read the RFID tags of palletized crates (empty or filled), documenting when they arrive and leave the Zellik depot, as well as the total number of crates on hand at the depot at any given time. The Zellik pilot follows Euro Pool System's initial work with RFID, which started in 2004 and involved the testing of EPC Gen 1 technology. The company began working with HP in early 2005.

The RFID technology, Lok says, lets Euro Pool System track the crates much more quickly and efficiently than it could with bar codes. "RFID will increase our process speed," he explains. "At this moment, you need to stop for one second [at the portal] to read a full pallet of crates with 2-D bar codes. With the RFID tags, you can go through a portal at 6 kilometers (3.72 miles) per hour. That's much faster."

Together with HP and Bekuplast, a German injection-molding company, Euro Pool System designed an RFID-tagged, foldable crate measuring 60 centimeters (23.6 inches) long by 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) wide. The crate is available in several heights, ranging from 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) to 24 centimeters (9.4 inches). Embedded in the crate's lower side, Lok says, the tag is designed to withstand high-pressure cleansing with soap and water as hot as 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit).

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