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California Freight Yard Tracks Trailers Via RFID

DSC Logistics uses RFID readers on its yard truck, and at its gate, to monitor where each trailer is located, and then shares that data with customers and freight carriers.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 10, 2012Third-party logistics provider DSC Logistics is gaining efficiency and lowering costs at its site in Mira Loma, Calif., using a ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification system provided by PINC Solutions. PINC's Yard Hound system, which was taken live a year ago, not only eliminates the need for staff members to search for trailers, but also enables carriers and shippers to access data regarding shipments' locations via the Internet.

The supply chain management company's Mira Loma Logistics Center comprises three shipping and storage facilities, all sharing a single yard in which loaded and empty trailers are stored prior to being unloaded or shipped elsewhere. Not only are the trailers managed across three facilities, but their contents belong to one of about 20 customers, with the trailers themselves managed by one of multiple freight companies. Most of the approximately 200 trailers located onsite at any given time contain perishable food products, and have a short turnaround time—between one and three days. Trailers are commonly unloaded upon arriving from the Port of Long Beach, and their contents are stored and then shipped at the DSC Logistics facility.

Trailers that are repeatedly stored at DSC Logistics' Mira Loma yards have an EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tag bolted to their exterior.

To record the trailers' arrival and departure times, as well as their locations while within the yard, the company had developed a manual yard-management system that depended on paper and pen, as well as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. This, however, was a time-consuming process, the company reports, requiring workers on each shift to spend approximately an hour visually inspecting the containers within the yard, and writing down each container's serial number and location, after which the office staff spent another hour or so reconciling the handwritten information with the data in the system. If a freight carrier wished to learn the status of its trailers—whether, for example, they had been received at the yard, or had been shipped from it, or whether they had yet been unloaded—that company had to await a periodic e-mail from the facility, make frequent phone calls or request that data be extracted from the electronic record and e-mailed to its address.

During the past year, the logistics center took on a large new client, resulting in an increased number of trailers entering and leaving the yard, and thus making yard management more complex. Therefore, DSC Logistics opted to try PINC's Yard Hound solution, consisting of passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags placed on containers, readers installed on the yard trucks, and software to manage read data that could then be shared with operations, customers and freight companies via the Internet, according to Michael O'Reilly, DSC Logistics' solutions manager and the project leader for this implementation.

DSC Logistics' Michael O'Reilly
DSC Logistics trialed the system at its yard for several months, after which, O'Reilly says, "We validated the cost savings we were anticipating, identified additional service benefits, and were ready to make a commitment to the technology and partnership with PINC."

With the RFID-based system in place, some trailers that repeatedly come and go from the yard have a permanent Alien Technology RFID tag bolted to their exterior. Upon arriving at the yard, says Rafael Granato, PINC Solutions' marketing communications manager, the trailers pass through the gate, where a PINC gate reader—consisting of a Motorola Solutions XR440 reader—interrogates the tag, links that tag ID number with data regarding the trailer and the customer, and displays that information for the gate guard on his PC. Having already received an update from the Yard Hound software pertaining to shipments expected for that day, the gate guard then presses prompts to indicate that the shipment is in order, and directs the driver as to where the trailer should be deposited.

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