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Tracking Products to Thwart Thieves

To reduce losses and boost efficiency, Woolworths has launched a pilot that uses RFID and other technologies to track products through the supply chain.
Each driver has his own portable kit, a Symbol PDT8100 handheld scanner. The unit has a GPS transmitter, so Woolworth's can track the truck's movements between the distribution center and the store. The GPS transmitter can be set up to send a signal at different intervals. Since the cost of the system is based on how often the transmitter broadcasts, the interval can be lengthened if the goods in transit are inexpensive, or set for every five or ten seconds if there is high-value merchandise in the truck.

The handheld GPS unit
When the driver arrives at the store, he keys in four-digit number used to identify that store and the system confirms his exact location by "geo-fencing". If he says he at store 1234, the system knows the location of that specific store and confirms that he is where he says he is. He is then required to enter the four-digit seal number, which has to correspond with the number that was entered at the dispatch bay. If it does correspond, he is then given instructions on the handheld about which dollies and totes to unload. As he unloads each one, he scans it with the Symbol unit. Each time, the system confirms that he has the correct dolly or tote. It warns him if he has delivered too many, too few or the wrong ones.

The driver then gets an electronic signature on the screen of his PDT8100. He accepts any returns that might be going from the store back to the distribution center and closes the transaction by closing the vehicle door and entering the seal number. When he gets back into the vehicle, he connects the PDT8100 to its base station, and the information from the transaction is transmitted wirelessly via the Mobitex network into Microlise's Transport Management Centre. From there, the data is forwarded to the Savi SmartChain platform where the asset movement history is recorded. The driver goes on to the next drop and the process is repeated.

The system can track dollies going to any of Woolworths more than 800 stores in the U.K. But for the pilot, only 15 trucks have been equipped with the Symbol handheld computers with GPS transmitters. That allows the company to track shipments to 30 to 40 stores.

The data does not feed into existing enterprise systems. Instead, the existing systems feed data into the SmartChain tracking platform. For instance, the tote-pick control system tells Savi SmartChain which picks and which tote boxes are going in which store order. The transport management system provides the SmartChain software with information about which store order goes on which vehicles when the vehicles are in the dispatch bay. The SmartChain platform brings all the data together to keep track of which pick went into which tote, which tote went onto which dolly and which dolly onto which vehicle.

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