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German Mail Carrier Tracks Letters via RFID, GSM Trackers

During the past year, Postcon has expanded its passive RFID mail-tracking system, with active cellular and Wi-Fi-based Kizy trackers from Spectos to view the movements of sample letters in real time as they pass through sortation systems and hubs and are delivered to recipients.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 10, 2019

Postcon is employing UHF RFID, as well as cellular- and GPS-based location technologies, to improve the flow of mail as it is processed and delivered. The German mail-delivery company has found a way to measure and improve the efficiency of its sortation and delivery services, by tracking individual letters from the time they are mailed until they reach their destination.

For more than a decade, the delivery company has applied passive UHF RFID tags to many of its letters and has used reader gates at key locations to monitor those letters' movements at two sortation sites. More recently, an active cellular Kizy tracker has provided GSM cellular and Wi-Fi-based data throughout the entire transit of a letter, from shipper to recipient. The track-and-trace location data is managed by a cloud-based software platform provided by Spectos.

Postcon, a private postal carrier that delivers more than a billion letters and small packages annually, is Germany's second largest mail carrier. The company operates 10 mail-sortation centers and employs 1,200 mail carriers throughout the Rhineland and Ruhr areas. It works with 120 regional mail-delivery partners, all members of what it calls its Mail Alliance network. Postcon has been working with Spectos for more than 15 years, first with a passive UHF RFID solution, and now with the addition of the Kizy tracking solution, to gain visibility into the entire transit history of individual mail items.

Spectos is a Dresden, Germany-based data-analytics provider that develops and operates comprehensive RFID solutions, including RFID readers, tags, software, databases and cloud-based platforms. It has operated for 17 years, serving the logistics, health-care, and urban and public services industries, among others, with solutions and services. The company purchased Kizy Tracking SA last year, adding Kizy's cellular-tracking solution to its existing portfolio of technology solutions.

For Postcon, Spectos first installed RFID reader gates and antennas at Postcon's sortation sites. It attached UHF RFID adhesive tags to letters that were then tracked as they moved through sortation. In some cases, Spectos equipped participating recipients' mailboxes with RFID reading devices known as Last Mile Units. In the meantime, Postcon is using the third generation of reader gates provided by Spectos, utilizing reader hardware from a variety of manufacturers.

Spectos' software captured and managed the data on a cloud-based server, then provided that information to Postcon in the form of a dashboard and analytics reports. "With an RFID measuring chain, the optimization potential can be identified very precisely," says Markus Zubke, Postcon's quality manager. RFID data alone, however, does not provide a view into what happens to mail outside reader coverage areas. As such, says Niels Delater, Kizy's CEO, "It is not possible to determine where an error in the process chain has occurred. So that's where Kizy comes in."

With a real-time location system, Postcon wanted to track the locations of letters between sites, including throughout the entire delivery route, and to thereby identify bottlenecks and situations in which mail may be misrouted. Spectos supplied its Real-time Performance Management suite, Delater says, which captures data regarding the movements of sample mail items transmitted by Kizy's cellular-based tracker.

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