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RFID Helps Dallas Morning News Distribute Correct Fliers

The newspaper employs EPC Gen 2 tags to track the delivery of carts loaded with Sunday supplements, and to make sure they go to the appropriate distribution center.
By Claire Swedberg
May 19, 2008The Dallas Morning News recently expanded its advertising options by building a plant dedicated to the collating of advertising fliers and newspaper inserts based on the intended readership in specified geographical areas. With its new South Plant, in Dallas, the newspaper sends 600,000 packages of inserts with each week's Sunday paper in about 300 different arrangements, depending on the readers' location. A flier for a store in one suburban area, for instance, would appear only in newspapers circulated in that specific locale—not in every newspaper delivered throughout the entire Dallas/Fort Worth readership.

The company is employing an RFID-enabled tracking system to ensure those packages—which are transported on metal carts to 12 distribution centers—are transported on the correct truck to the right DC. The system, known as RF SmartCart Tracking System, was provided by Cannon Equipment and went fully live this month.

When a cart is pushed onto a truck, it passes through one of eight dock doors, each equipped with an RFID portal reader.

Beginning early each week, the company collates fliers and inserts into unique packages. Once the appropriate inserts are assembled for a specific location, the packages are bundled together and shipped to one of the publisher's newspaper distribution centers. There, they are divided once more into specific groups, then inserted into the Sunday edition before being picked up by individual newspaper carriers.

There are two challenges to such an elaborate system, says Pat Geraghty, Cannon Equipment's print technologies director: One is ensuring the right fliers and inserts go to the correct distributor for a given geographical area, and the other is tracking the 4,000 carts themselves, which are shipped to distributors, then returned to the plant.

"Our supply chain is inherently complex," says Bill May, the Dallas Morning News' VP of operations. "We wanted to increase and safeguard the bundle integrity by verifying that we have loaded the right product onto the right truck for the right distribution center."

The Dallas Morning News had already been using Cannon Equipment's machines to automatically load carts for shipping. Now, the newspaper has added Alien Technology's tags and interrogators to the system, using them to help track its carts from the plant to the distribution center.

When packages are assembled into a bundle and given a bar-coded label, that label is scanned, connecting its bar-coded number with the destination to which the package will be sent. At that time, metal carts are wheeled into the station to be loaded, each with a passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag attached to it, encoded with a unique RFID tracking number linked to the cart's serial number.

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