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Fresh Food Provider Sees £150,000 Savings With RFID

Reynolds built its own UHF RFID-based system to track its approximately 60,000 reusable crates as they are packed, then shipped to and returned from customers; the company is now examining other ways in which the technology could help track product shipments or forklift transit efficiency at its distribution center.
By Claire Swedberg

"That's what set us to thinking [about] what we could do to track and trace them effectively," Calder recalls. "The crucial thing for us was to be able to say to our customers, 'Hang on, you haven't returned your crates,' but we needed a robust system to be able to do that." In fact, the company could not be sure who was failing to return the crates, or where those crates were going.

Reynolds' development consisted of building software to manage collected RFID tag data, and to then share that information with the existing ERP system. It began testing UHF RFID tags and tag placements, as well as how tag reads could be linked to bar-code scans of shipment orders. The firm worked closely with Avery Dennison to identify not only the best tag, but also the best adhesive, in order to ensure that the tag could withstand numerous washing cycles. It determined that the best configuration was two tags with the same EPC UHF RFID number, placed on opposing sides of the bottom of each crate. The crate manufacturer is applying the tags at the source.

Now, as each crate is used, the RFID system tracks the packing, shipping and return processes. First, every crate is linked to a specific customer order that is printed, along with a bar code, on a paper sticker applied to the side of the crate. The crate then travels down a conveyor, where it is loaded with the requested food items. An Impinj reader installed under the conveyor reads the tags on the crate, while a bar-code scanner scans the shipment order's ID on the side of the same crate. In that way, the specific crate can be linked to the particular order and customer.

Reynolds' Richard Calder
The loaded crates are moved into a staging area before being loaded onto a truck through one of 19 doors, above each of which another Impinj reader is mounted. As the crates pass through the doors onto the vehicles, their tags are read again, and the data is transmitted to the software, thereby updating the status as shipped. The crates are delivered either directly to a customer within the United Kingdom, or to one of eight regional depots, after which they are reloaded onto a delivery vehicle. The depots do not read the RFID tags.

When a crate is returned empty from a customer, it arrives at the DC and passes once more through one of the 19 dock doors, and the tag is again interrogated. The software can then indicate the crate has been returned so that the customer will no longer be held responsible for that crate. Once the emptied crates have been washed, personnel stack them and use a handheld scanner to ensure that all tags are still operating.

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