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Container Centralen Says It's Ready to Roll Out RFID in Europe

Within the next few months, users of the company's 3.5 million plant trolleys will begin receiving custom-designed passive tags that lock onto each cart, with the goal of improving inventory control and reducing shrinkage and counterfeiting.
By Rhea Wessel
May 27, 2010Less than six months from now, according to horticulture logistics supplier Container Centralen, all 3.5 million of its plant trolleys (or CC Containers) in Europe will be fitted with EPC Gen 2 RFID tags, as part of an effort to better control the company's inventory and reduce shrinkage and counterfeiting.

Container Centralen owns a variety of metal trolleys fitted with shelves and used by its customers—members of the horticultural supply chain—to transport plants. The firm is contractually bound to make the carts available, and to keep them in a good shape. Yet it battles counterfeits, has no information about the flow of its trolleys, and must add 150,000 trolleys annually to its pool to replace those missing or stolen.

Container Centralen's 3.5 million trolleys come in a variety of sizes, and are used throughout Europe's horticultural supply chain.

The company currently authenticates the carts visually, by means of a black padlock that attaches to the trolley, along with a metal plate engraved with a serial number identifying it as Container Centralen's property. A bar-coded label is also affixed to the padlock, but the firm does not use the bar code, and never installed bar-code scanners at its facilities, as it discovered bar codes easily get dirty and become unreadable due to the working environment. What's more, the bar-code labels are often exposed to damaging outdoor weather year-round.

The RFID project has been in development for almost six years, as Container Centralen conducted tests and trials, sizing up the task of implementing the technology to track such a large pool of returnable assets. At an early stage of the project, the company formed a partnership with major institutions in the flower industry to implement RFID. They are FloraHolland, an auction business in Holland, at which some Container Centralen trolleys are used; Landgard, a leading German horticultural firm; GASA Group, a flower auction company in Denmark; and VGB, a Dutch association of flower and pot plant wholesalers, which owns 50 percent of Container Centralen (Danish flower exporters own the remaining 50 percent).

The project's Web site notes that the partnering companies are all interested in implementing RFID in the horticulture industry. Indeed, according to Soren M. Sorensen, Container Centralen's COO, each company has an interest in ensuring a high-quality pool of CC Containers, as well as capturing the benefits and cost-savings that RFID offers, such as ease of tracking and better information regarding supply levels and availability.

Container Centralen then hired IBM to design and implement hardware, software and processes for the system. "We saw that the project was too large for us to do on our own, so we submitted a tender," Sorensen explains. Container Centralen is investing more than 100 million Danish kroner ($16.6 million) in the RFID project, including tags, readers and services.

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