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RFID Helps Ringnes Track Beverage Shipping Containers

The Norwegian beverage maker is using EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags to track its reusable containers as they are shipped, filled with products, to retailers, and then returned empty to its distribution center.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 25, 2009Beverage manufacturer Ringnes is tracking containers of beer and other beverages with RFID as they leave and return to its distribution center (DC) in Oslo, Norway. The system is improving the management of containers in the DC's large shipping yard, as well as providing data regarding the movement of product in those containers, whether by truck or by rail. The system, designed and installed by IBM Global Technology Services, employs hardware provided by Intermec. A similar system has been deployed this month by Volkswagen—again, to track containers—at its assembly plant in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Ringnes, a subsidiary of the Carlsberg Group, is Norway's largest brewery and supplier of soda and bottled water. The firm sells approximately half a billion liters (132 million gallons) of beverages each year. From the Oslo facility, it ships the product in about 200 trucks, as well as by rail. The company is using an RFID system to track the containers loaded with beverages as they are shipped to retailers, and then as they return from the product distributor, either empty or filled with empty bottles.

Due to the volume of product, as well as the quantity of retailers receiving it, Ringnes found it difficult to track containers as they were loaded and transported to stores from the company's distribution center, as well as the empty containers and bottles as they returned to the DC. Employees visually checked the container yard to determine which containers were available, and also utilized paper records to understand where containers should be. What the firm wanted was an automated system with which it could know how many containers—and of what size—were available for loading, as well as the exact time they were loaded and left the yard for a retailer. "We wanted to have more information, especially inside the distribution center," says Jon Kvande, Ringnes' process-development manager.

Ten years ago, the Carlsberg Group—Ringnes' parent company—had considered RFID tagging for pallets, after discovering that bar-coded labels tended to fall off or become damaged. At that time, however, the price of RFID technology was too high, Kvande says. Two and a half years ago, with prices lower, Ringnes approached IBM seeking an RFID solution that could include RFID tags for containers or pallets. In December 2008, after carrying out a pilot project involving the use of RFID tags on containers, the company decided to launch the container application to help it track approximately 300 containers in and out of its Oslo yard.

Because the containers were loaded with beverages, the RFID system had to operate well around fluids, which can sometimes interfere with RF signals, particularly ultrahigh-frequency (UHF). But the robustness of the tag was another problem: the reusable containers were frequently washed under high pressure, which could cause the tags to become damaged. IBM chose Intermec Small Rigid EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags, Kvande says, which are working well. Ringnes has applied two tags to each container.

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