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RFID Delivers Benefits to Air Canada Cargo

The freight services company is deploying Franwell's CargoAware solution to track shipments as they move through its five hubs and larger cargo-transfer stations around the world.
By Claire Swedberg

The companies worked with the university to resolve such challenges as reading tags in the presence of liquid-filled packages (placing tags on the corners of parcels made them the most reliably readable), and what to do in the event that an Internet connection were not available for the readers to forward their data (if the Wi-Fi system being used for the RFID deployment was not working at any given time, the readers would store their data until Internet access returned).

After completing the proof-of-concept, Johnston says, Air Canada Cargo decided to "go forward with the technology." The results proved that the system could provide automatic visibility into the packages' status, she notes—including, in the case of the hubs, the specific container in which they were being loaded and transported.

Attached to each package is a label with an embedded Smartrac Frog RFID inlay.
Traditionally, when Air Canada Cargo receives a package from a freight forwarder, it attaches a label with information printed on it in text and bar-code form. That data includes an eight-digit air waybill number and the package's destination. Workers can visually check the label at other stations, where packages are sorted for loading in vehicles and aircraft. At the hubs, the packages are placed in large containers known as universal loading devices (ULDs) or on pallets, and employees must input data about which packages are placed in which container, or on which pallet, so that they can be tracked.

With RFID, that process becomes automated. First, workers at the stations print a label with an embedded Smartrac Frog EPC UHF RFID tag. "If a shipper tenders shipments already wrapped together on a wooden pallet—many pieces wrapped together but identified to us as one piece—we tag it as one," Johnston explains. "If the shipment is tendered as many loose pieces, we tag every single piece, then prepare it for transport." The unique ID number encoded to the tag is linked to the air waybill number printed on the label, and to the shipment information in Franwell's CargoAware software, which forwards that data to the Unisys management software that Air Canada Cargo uses to plan and track package movements.

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