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Parma's RFID Lab Extends Logistics Pilot to the Manufacturer

For its third logistics pilot, the University of Parma laboratory is tracking perishable food from the manufacturer's warehouse to the retailer's point of sale.
By Claire Swedberg
For the current phase, Danone is applying the RFID labels to cases of yogurt products after they are packed at its warehouse, according to orders received from Auchan stores. Danone's workers utilize a Zebra Technologies RP4T mobile thermal-transfer printer to encode each RFID label with an ID number and then link that ID to the product's stock-keeping unit (SKU), as well as the manufacturing date for the goods packed in the carton. Danone is not reading the tags as part of its picking, packing or shipping processes, but sends an advance shipping notice to Auchan indicating which products are en route.

When the tagged boxes are received at Auchan's DC, they are directed to an RFID gate through which tagged cartons are moved. Each tag's ID number is sent via a wired connection to the project's middleware, provided by ID-Solutions, an Italian software firm spun off from the University of Parma. The software then forwards each tag's RFID number—along with that carton's product details, and a date and time stamp—to ID-Solutions' Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) software, which creates a record of when each carton of a specific product was received from the manufacturer. The system also compares the read data with a list of goods expected to be received (based on the advance shipping notice), and displays an alert on a dashboard in the event of a discrepancy, such as goods missing from an order.

At Auchan's distribution center, the cartons are then moved into cold storage until being shipped to the stores. Three of Auchan's stores, all located in northern Italy, are participating in the pilot. When tagged cartons or goods are shipped to stores, they again pass through the DC's RFID portal, thereby creating a record of that shipment in the software.

The goods are received at the store dock doors and are interrogated once more, and the EPCIS software then updates each tagged carton's status as received at the retail location. To track when goods are placed on shelves, the researchers installed an RFID reader at each of the three stores' trash compactors. Store employees remove the goods from the cartons, place those products on the shelves and send the empty boxes to be compacted, at which time the interrogator reads the tag a final time, in order to indicate that the products are now on the store shelf. Auchan's legacy point-of-sale (POS) system collects data regarding the actual sale date and time of the items packed in the boxes, and shares that information with the EPCIS system.

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