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RFID Blooms for Dutch Flower Tracking

European RFID and automation specialists announced that several commercial greenhouses in the Netherlands are using RFID to track, monitor, and route individual potted flowers throughout the 30-week growing process. RFID suppliers say more than three million flowers have been tracked in what they claim is a first-of-its-kind application.
Jul 18, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

July 18, 2007—RFID is growing -- literally. TAGSYS announced millions of its RFID tags are being used in commercial greenhouses in the Netherlands to track and monitor flower growing, sorting, and distribution processes.

Pots are tracked from the time flowers are seeds until they are ready for sale, a process that takes about 30 weeks. Passive, reusable 13.56 MHz (high frequency) tags are applied to the underside of trays that carry potted flowers and seedlings. The tagged trays are the keys to an automated material handling system developed specifically for the flower industry by Walking Plant Systems (WPS), a Dutch automation company.

"I think this is an absolutely new application," Serge Renault of TAGSYS told RFID Update. "They can't use bar code because of the water, dust, humidity, and dirt in the process. They must use RFID for automatic identification because it is contactless."

WPS developed software and material handling systems that automatically route potted flowers to watering, fertilization, and inspection stations. The 22 millimeter TAGSYS 10-TL RFID tags, originally developed for commercial laundry tracking, are used to identify individual potted flowers. TAGSYS RFID readers mounted under the conveyor automatically record each movement. Potted flowers are routed to an automated camera, which takes a picture of the flower and uses image processing software to determine its dimensions. Other system software monitors the image data to determine if the flower is growing at a normal rate or if it may be diseased. Flowers that require special attention can quickly be located and retrieved using RFID and the conveyor system.

Zetes, a leading European automatic identification specialist, worked closely with WPS and TAGSYS to develop and integrate the system.

The system has been deployed in greenhouses as large as 700,000 square meters, and installations have ranged from ten to 50 readers, according to Renault. There are approximately 1,500 potted plant growers in the Netherlands, and the average value of each potted plant is five euros, according to the TAGSYS release.

The system can also be used to sort orders for customers, record shipments, and provide traceability and documentation that shipped flowers were free of disease. Next year some growers may expand the system to record more care and feeding activity performed during the growing process to create databases that can be analyzed to improve future yields, according to Renault.

RFID has previously been used in greenhouses to track carts and racks that carry plants (most notably by FloraHolland, the largest flower auction company in the world), but TAGSYS and its partners believe the WPS system is the first to provide item-level tracking. TAGSYS sees flower growing, distributing, and retailing as a "growth" industry for RFID.

"Our partners have had contacts with many greenhouses about installing this system, and there is also interest from stores," said TAGSYS' Olivier Burah. "RFID could help a retailer get flowers to shelves more quickly and provide accurate information about exactly what is available in inventory."
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