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Selfridges Trials Tagged Shipments

Supply chain manager Exel will expand its RFID trial to track shipments for U.K. department store chain.
By Jonathan Collins
Dec 18, 2003Supply chain management company Exel says that an RFID trial it recently deployed to track shipments to U.K. department store chain Selfridges was a success and will be expanded through next year.
Paul Richardson

Exel operates and manages Selfridges's entire supply chain for its four department stores and its national distribution center. It was responsible for planning and financing the RFID deployment, but worked closely with Selfridges.

“We wanted to understand and test the robustness of RFID and replace some of the hype we had heard with our own proven examples, and the technology has worked very well,” says Paul Richardson, business director for European retail services at Exel, which is based in Bracknell, England.

For the initial deployment, Exel attached active RFID tags to 20 vehicles and to 120 temperature-controlled containers used to deliver food to Selfridges' department stores. Exel also deployed readers and screens at the retailer’s six loading bays at its Hams Hall national distribution center (NDC), in West Midlands. When the delivery vehicles and containers near the loading bays, RFID readers and antennas read their tags and automatically relay the arrival time and location to Exel's in-house software.

The trial uses 433 MHz tags and readers from Wavetrend Technologies, in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to Exel, it opted for active tags because of the reusability of the tags as well as the significantly lower cost of active readers compared with their passive counterparts.

During the initial RFID trial, Exel found that to ensure accurate readings, it had to deploy flat-screen monitors as well as RFID readers at the loading bays. The touch screens flash when a correct reading has been taken and also emit a range of sounds so that operators can tell immediately and from a distance if there are any problems in readings taken during the loading or unloading process. The need for such alerts was realized during the initial trial when tags on some trucks were crushed. Without the visual and auditory alerts, the failure to take readings went unnoticed.

“You have to have good operator interaction. At least bar code scanning makes operators check items carefully to get line-of-sight readings,” says Richardson.

Exel is now planning to deploy readers at the loading bays at all four Selfridges stores in the first few months of 2004. “We can track goods moved out of the NDC, but we want to know when exactly when they are delivered and we want to get immediate confirmation,” says Richardson.

The final phase will see Exel working to link both the NDC and the store systems to its warehouse management system, PkMS, which lets Exel manage all of Selfridges' products and interfaces with Selfridges' merchandise management system and Exel's management information system. That is expected to be completed by the end of 2004, says Richardson.

"We hope that the future application [of RFID] will help Selfridges to improve stock visibility, increase security and track dispatch and delivery processes. Ultimately, RFID could provide automated, real-time command and control of the fleet," says Richardson.

A global supply chain management company, Exel provides freight forwarding, warehousing, distribution and other services to a range of manufacturing and retail industries. The company employs around 67,000 people in 1,600 locations in more than 120 countries worldwide. Selfridges retails more than 3,000 brands, from clothing and accessories to furniture and household appliances. In the past few years the department store has expanded from the original Oxford Street store established in 1909.

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