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New Zealand Kiwifruit Processor Finds ROI

EastPack has already shipped 2 million additional trays this year through increased efficiency in tracking and tracing pallets of the fruit.
By Dave Friedlos
May 20, 2008A New Zealand company has rolled out what it deems one of the Asia Pacific region's largest commercial applications of radio frequency identification to date using RFID tags and interrogators complying with Electronic Product Code (EPC) standards. EastPack, a firm that packs, stores and ships more than 12 million trays of kiwifruit annually to locations worldwide, says it is reaping the benefits of the system less than one month after it was rolled out across the company's three sites.

Thanks to the RFID system, EastPack has already shipped 2 million more trays of kiwifruit in 2008 compared with the same period of time last year, through increased efficiency in tracking and tracing pallets of the fruit. After three weeks, says the company's administrator, Donna Smit, the system was able to locate pallets to the exact position 98.6 percent of the time.

An EPC Gen 2 RFID tag is applied to the label that goes on every pallet of kiwifruit.

"The accuracy is amazing, and we believe that we can improve that to 100 percent in the next few weeks," Smit says. "There are less incidents where pallets are unable to be found, and we are cutting the number of times we have to move a pallet before shipping."

EastPack maintains facilities in the New Zealand towns of Edgecumbe, Opotiki and Te Puke, and has 42 refrigerated storage rooms, each of which can hold between 600 and 700 pallets. At its packing houses, the company stores kiwifruit in refrigerated rooms, sometimes for months at a time, before retrieving it to meet specific shipping orders.

Knowing a pallet's exact location at any given time is particularly vital, Smit explains, because some pallets of fruit do not keep as long as others. "We need to be able to ensure that the fruit that does not keep is shipped sooner in order to reduce incidents of fruit loss," she says. "But knowing exactly where a pallet is also allows us to grab the closest available pallet of fruit for shipping without having to move lots of other pallets. This increases the efficiency of staff and means orders can go out more quickly and not at the last minute."

EastPack previously employed a bar-code system to track pallets. Bar-coded labels, attached to the pallets, were read by a scanner located on the forklift. It was up to forklift drivers, however, to manually type in the pallet's position and row. "The problem was," Smit says, "we could not always get the drivers to type the information in."

Pallet locations are determined by means of forklift-mounted cameras and bar-coded location signs attached to the ceiling.

EastPack employs staff seasonally for periods of up to 12 weeks, so there is little time to train them effectively. When it became particularly busy in the warehouse, many drivers forgot to update the location information. Knowing it needed a modern technological solution, EastPack sought help from GS1 New Zealand, a member of GS1, an international organization that includes EPCglobal, which develops standards for technologies to support the use of RFID. GS1's goal is to make EPC technology the global RFID system for product identification.

Erik Sundermann, a senior consultant with GS1 New Zealand, initially provided information on the technology, standards, applications and benefits of EPC RFID, then visited the sites to document EastPack's processes and identify where RFID could help. "The biggest pain point for EastPack is that it stocks fresh produce, which is perishable," Sundermann says. "If a pallet goes missing for too long, then the fruit is spoilt and can not be exported. But EastPack also needed a thorough inventory of its stock, because there are such different varieties of fruit, different quality levels and different pack types, some of which are not appropriate for some markets."


Pete Rector 2008-05-22 02:59:00 PM
Optically Enabled RTLS The RTLS system utilized by the Kiwi Fruit company in New Zeeland is a very innovative optically enabled system from Sky-Trax, a company in Newcastle, DE. It has the ability to geo-locate to inch level accuracy and, when combined with RFID, provides a 'scan-free' putaway and retrieval capability that is as cost effective as it is elegantly simple. In the absence of RFID, a forward facing CCD devise (camera) can also decode optical symbologies or even use OCR to identify the objects being transported (pallets of Kiwi fruit in the article). GENCO has this technology deployed in a 328,000 square foot facility just south of Atlanta and is planning further rollouts of the technology to additional sites.

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