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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

After using the system for a year, Calder says, the company has not had a single tag fail. The most challenging part of the RFID installation, he reports, was linking the bar-code scan of each packing label with the RFID tag on the crate during the packing process.

With the system fully implemented, management can use the collected data to identify which customers are not returning crates on time. It can then contact those customers with specific information about which crates went missing and when this occurred, after which those customers can identify where the crates in question might be, and thus address the problem.

The RFID solution was inexpensive to deploy, Calder indicates, and the company achieved a return on its investment within fewer than three months, based on the prevented loss of crates. The crates themselves cost somewhat less than £5 apiece, while the single-use cardboard boxes are priced at 40 pence (53 cents). With that in mind, the company needs to reuse the crates at least 10 to 12 times in order to pay back the cost of each crate. With the RFID system, he adds, the firm can reuse the crates many more times than that.

In the meantime, customers are saving money by using the reusable crates rather than paying to have cardboard recycled. The system enables them to be sure they are credited for each returned crate. By using the solution, Reynolds can sign agreements with customers enabling them to use the crates at no cost, as long as they return used crates at a near-100 percent rate. Those who cannot meet that demand could be transitioned back to cardboard boxes.

Currently, Calder reports, the company has between 50,000 and 60,000 reusable crates in circulation, with delivery of about 20,000 plastic crates per week. He says the company is now considering other ways in which it can use the system or expand its reach. For instance, Reynolds could install RFID readers in delivery trucks, linking read data with each vehicle's GPS location, so that the system knows when and where the crate was delivered. Since the packing order ID is linked to the crate, the firm could also identify which products were delivered and when this occurred.

The company might also opt to test the technology on forklifts at the DC. In that scenario, each forklift could have an RFID tag attached to it, and readers inside the warehouse could capture the locations of forklifts moving throughout the facility. Operations managers could then view the forklift's locations and send tasks for the picking of items to the driver within the closest vicinity of the products requested.

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