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H&M Bay Cools Its Freight With RFID
EPC Gen 2 passive tags enable the shipping company to track the location of temperature-sensitive goods at its new cold-storage facilities, and to share that information with its customers.
May 26, 2009—Saturdays are busy days at the Federalsburg, Md., cross-docking distribution center of H&M Bay, a national less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier of frozen and refrigerated goods. Late in the day every Friday, the company's fleet of 130 or more trucks begins arriving with trailers loaded with beef, seafood, bakery items and other temperature-sensitive goods.
To improve on its system of transferring freight from one truck to another, the company decided in 2008 to install cold-storage rooms so freight could be unloaded and stored in a temperature-controlled fashion until it was ready to be loaded onto another vehicle. However, the firm also realized that if it installed such cold-storage facilities, it would require an RFID-enabled system that would allow it to locate products in those rooms quickly, and to track the length of time each product has been in and out of cold storage, as well as when it shipped. Now, nine months after launching its new cold-storage operations, the company has concluded that the RFID system has successfully fulfilled those requirements, says John Walker, H&M Bay's software development manager.
Prior to deploying the RFID system, Walker says, H&M Bay had met with supply chain software system provider Franwell, and liked the company's approach. Walker's team had specific demands of the RFID system it sought. "I need to make sure I can find every pallet," he explains. "I need to be able to quickly go and find it." H&M also wanted the system to be relatively unobtrusive, he says, noting "Our workforce is all on forklifts. This thing [RFID system] had to be mobile, and it had to be done quickly. Now that we have this nice cold-storage facility, we have to get the product into it quickly."
Franwell indicated it could design a system to meet those constraints, and the two companies began working together to formulate a solution. The result is a system in which pallets are fitted with passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Gen 2 RFID tags, then stored on racks fitted with similar tags. The pallets remain in those tagged racks until an order is placed, at which time they can be taken out of cold storage and moved to a loading dock, while H&M Bay tracks data regarding all of those movements.
The system was custom-designed to be user-friendly, according to Terri Crawford, Franwell's VP and COO. "We couldn't build a complex inventory system with a complex user interface," she states. H&M's employees typically move quickly on forklifts, often working weekends—and many are part-timers—so the system needed to be intuitive and require little operator training.
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