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Kerry Logistics Looks at the Big Picture for Item-Level RFID

The Hong Kong company is testing the use of EPC Gen 2 tags to track Canon cameras and lenses as they are packed and shipped to local retailers.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 30, 2010Kerry Logistics, a Hong Kong-based third-party logistics company providing international freight-forwarding and supply chain services, has begun trialing an RFID system at one of its facilities, to track the kitting and shipping of Canon cameras and their components prior to their shipment to retailers. If the RFID system operates as hoped, it will provide the firm with greater visibility into the kitting of each product (which includes adding accessories and warranties to every item prior to packing it in a carton for shipment), as well as assurance that only the correct products are packed and shipped. In the future, the system will also provide a method for matching paper warranty documents with actual products.

Kerry Logistics provides freight-forwarding services for customers worldwide, and in some instances, the firm also offers value-added services (VAS) that may involve some level of packing or kitting of the products before shipment. The company operates 12 warehouses in Hong Kong, totaling six million square feet of warehouse space.


A Kerry Logistics worker applies an Avery Dennison EPC Gen 2 label to the cardboard packaging of each camera or lens.

The RFID system was deployed at a Kerry Logistics facility through which Canon ships its camera products to retailers. When a retailer places an order, Kerry Logistics' staff gathers the requested pre-packaged cameras and lenses for that particular order, adds the necessary accessories and warranty documents to the individual cardboard box in which each item was pre-packaged, and then packs the boxes in cartons to be shipped. Shipment accuracy, says Wilson Lee, Kerry Logistics' director of information technology, "is very, very important."

Until the RFID system was launched monthin mid-2010, verifying that an order was filled correctly required employees to look up each product's serial number and associated stock-keeping unit (SKU) number, in order to confirm that the items being packed matched the order, and to then scan the bar-coded number printed on the packaging and corresponding to the product's serial number. While workers rarely make mistakes, Lee says, the process is slow. RFID, he notes, should reduce the time spent ensuring the proper items are being packed.


Kerry Logistics' Wilson Lee
With the new system, once an order is placed, the necessary products are gathered and moved to the kitting assembly line, where accessories and warranty documents will be inserted into each camera's cardboard packaging. The order number and details for that order, including the ordered products' SKUs, are stored in Kerry Logistics' management system, and are displayed on a screen at the assembly line. An RFID printer at the beginning of the packing line encodes a unique ID number to an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID label from Avery Dennison, which is applied to the cardboard packaging of each camera or lens as staff members scan the bar-coded number linked to the item's serial number on the packaging. That RFID number is captured and then forwarded from the reader to the back-end system, via a cabled connection. RFID middleware provided by PCCW Solutions translates the data and sends it to Kerry Logistics' warehouse-management software, where the bar-code number and the SKU data associated with it are linked to the RFID number and stored. At the same time, the staff prints a warranty card containing that item's serial number, to accompany the product that has just been tagged.

As the cameras and lenses are packed in a carton according to the retailer's order, a Convergence Systems Limited (CSL) CS461 fixed reader captures each item's RFID number and links that information with the order number, thereby creating a permanent record of what has been packed. The staff then adds any necessary accessories, and also places the warranty card for each camera or lens inside its packaging before the carton is sealed. Typically, six to eight boxes of cameras or lenses are packed in each carton.

As a worker loads cartons onto a pallet, the system automatically reads the products' RFID tags once more, and the ID numbers are compared against the order being filled, to ensure accuracy and also update the database regarding what is being shipped. If there is a discrepancy, such as incorrect or missing items, an alert can be displayed on a monitor in the packing area. The cartons are then shipped to retailer customers throughout Hong Kong.

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