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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

When the package leaves an Air Canada Cargo hub or large cargo-transfer station to be loaded onto a vehicle or airplane, it passes a floor-mounted or overhead Jamison RFID Mod3 Smart portal installed at the dock door. The portal's RFID reader captures the tag ID number and updates the software, residing on Air Canada's server, to indicate that the shipment has left that station. When the package enters the next cargo-transfer station, it passes another Mod3 Smart portal and its status is again updated to indicate the new station.

At its five hubs—all located at key airports—Air Canada Cargo installed overhead Echo A202, A200, A300 and A302 smart antennas provided by View Technologies, with integrated RF Controls RFID readers that can identify the packages throughout the facility, as well as determine their location according to zones set up in the software. This is necessary because, in the hubs, parcels are typically loaded into ULDs, along with other packages destined for the same station, such as the one in Frankfurt. Shipments often consist of many smaller packages. By knowing in which containers they are loaded, the company can ensure that all packages end up in the same aircraft destined for the next station, even if they are loaded into different containers or onto different pallets. This also enables compliance with customs and security mandates.

A floor-mounted Mod3 Smart portal identifies cargo as it exits through a dock door.
When loading a ULD or pallet, Air Canada personnel utilize a handheld computer to input the ULD number and the zone into which it is being loaded. This enables the CargoAware system to use RFID to track what is loaded onto that ULD. Once the ULD has been filled, CargoAware forwards the collected data to the Unisys Logistics Management System (LMS) software and prints an RFID label that is then attached to the ULD and used to track its movement throughout the hub.

Workers are also utilizing handheld readers at some locations to search for specific packages, according to Michael Nicometo, CargoAware's director, by placing the readers in Geiger counter mode. In addition, Air Canada Cargo has tested the technology with readers built into wristbands worn by packers. The readers, each of which contains a motion sensor, detect when a packer is loading a ULD, and begin reading the tag IDs of those packages. This system serves as an alternative to real-time location system (RTLS) solutions with overhead Echo antennas.

Most of the technology installation is taking place this year, Johnston says, at a rate of several stations per week. "By the end of next year," she adds, "we expect to be entirely finished."

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