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RFID Contains Solution to Chinese Shipping Problems

China International Marine Containers recently launched an RFID pilot to track containers from its factory to the storage yard.
By Jill Gambon
Without up-to-the-minute information pinpointing containers' precise locations, finding the right one was akin to picking out a particular grain of sand in the desert. When it came time to move a container for shipping, workers had to search acres of vertically stacked and similar-looking containers. At times, they resorted to using binoculars to read the identification number on the containers, some stacked eight or nine stories high.

Under the pilot project, CIMC and Laudis collaborated to develop a real-time asset-tracking and management system for the storage yard. The system provides three-dimensional mapping and task-management features, and utilizes two software components: Mobile Locator, which runs on a vehicle-mounted, mobile computer, determining location and collecting the asset-tracking data; and Position Server, which uses XML-based APIs to provide an interface between the mobile communication systems and CIMC's existing yard-management system. Position Server can operate as a standalone server or as an add-on to existing systems. It includes a business-rules processor allowing customers to define their own rules or parameters for optimizing operations and workflow.


Sensors connected to the vehicle-mounted computers via serial port help track location.

Using this information, the system can create alerts to correct problems or define the best routes and schedules to move products. At CIMC, for example, alerts are issued on the mobile computer if a forklift or crane operator picks the wrong container. Sensors connected to the vehicle-mounted computers via serial port also help track location.

Laudis' software works with hardware from various RFID vendors, including Symbol, ThingMagic and several Chinese companies, and with mobile computers from a variety of vendors. CIMC says it deployed ISO 18000 6B-based passive tags operating in the 902 to 928 MHz range. Both the tags and interrogators were produced by a Chinese vendor, which CIMC declined to name.

At the factory, passive tags are attached to the containers by magnetic strip as they come off the assembly line. The tags incorporate a container's complete identification information, including its weight, the date and time of manufacture and the intended customer. All of that information is written to the company's central database. RFID tags are mounted on the windshields of the trucks hauling the containers from the factory to the storage yard. RFID interrogators at the factory gates then read the tags on both the trucks and the containers as they pass through, sending information about the movement to the central database.

When the trucks reach the container yard, interrogators scan both the trailer and the container tags, making check-in automatic. Based on the check-in data, travel time is calculated for billing purposes. The yard-management system, which CIMC developed, sends instructions to workers, via the CDMA network, regarding where to unload the containers. The forklifts that unload and stack the containers are equipped with touch-screen computers running Mobile Locator and an RFID interrogator, while the mobile computer and the RFID interrogator transmit data via the wireless network.

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