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Taiwanese Fruit Distributor Tracks Fresh Produce Via RFID

Je-Nong Cooperative Farm has reduced labor costs by adopting plastic crates with embedded passive UHF EPC tags to document the processing of fruit at its plant.
By Claire Swedberg

EPC Solutions Taiwan designed the CrateTag, made with an Alien Technology Higgs-3 chip and encapsulated with a polyethylene material. The CrateTag is able to survive temperatures of up to 240 degrees Celsius (464 degrees Fahrenheit), which can occur during the plastic-injection molding used to manufacture the crate. During this molding, Liu says, the encapsulated housing fuses with the crate's plastic material.

With the new system in place, a farmer anticipating a harvest sends Je-Nong a request for RFID-tagged plastic crates. The firm uses an Alien ALR-9650 RFID reader (which includes an integrated circularly polarized antenna) to input all crate ID numbers into its system and link those IDs to that specific farmer. The farm then fills the crates with fruit and ships them back to Je-Nong.

Je-Nong's facility consists of a 100,000-square-foot building housing eight cooling units for storing fruit. The cooperative has installed an Alien ALR-9900+ reader at each unit.

When the produce is weighed, the crate is placed onto a scale, where an ALR-9650 reader captures the crate's unique ID number. The system then links that ID and weight to data regarding the produce packed within, along with its farm of origin. Futaba software links that information with the weight captured by the scale. As the crate passes though the cleaning and disinfection stations, interrogators capture these events as well, creating a record indicating when each process was completed.

The crates are then transported to coolers, each with a single ALR-9900+ reader and four antennas installed at its doorway. Installed within each cooler is a Taiwan Futaba remote-controlled wireless temperature and humidity sensor. The battery-powered 2.4 GHz wireless sensor transmits data to a single reader installed in the cooler and cabled to the computer system on which the software resides. That software collects sensor data and issues an alert, via a text message, to management in the event that the conditions fall outside preset parameters. This allows the managers to quickly respond to temperature changes before the fruit can become damaged. The sensor data is also linked to each crate's unique ID, thereby marrying the temperature and humidity data with the specific products.

When the produce stored in those cooling units is exported to Japan, Je-Nong provides Japanese quarantine officers with data about each crate of produce, in order to prove that the company has maintained the products' freshness. This information can also be shared with customers in Taiwan, China and Korea.

Since the solution's installation in early 2012, Chang reports, Je-Nong Cooperative Farm has attained a return on its investment, based on a reduction in labor costs. What's more, he says, the system provides a more reliable product for customers, since the company now has automated proof of the fruit's conditions while at the Je-Nong facility. "We are so happy to have this system," Chang states, "and happy to demo to other cooperative farm companies."

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