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Dutch Horticultural Company Sends Flowers via RFID

FloraHolland expects to improve the flow of flowers from dock door to auction floor.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 03, 2006Dutch flower-auction company FloraHolland sells flowers to about 4,000 horticultural traders daily at its Naaldwijk facility. Now the worldwide cooperative of flower and plant growers, which this week merged with global horticultural vendor Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer, is embarking on an RFID project to move flowers more efficiently, and to gain more data about its products and their movements as they pass through the facility.

It's a tall order—the Naaldwijk facility, one of the largest commercial warehouses in Europe, is the size of 100 soccer fields. Trucks begin arriving at the 1-million-square-foot facility at 4 a.m. every day, where employees use tractors, trolleys and bicycles to handle incoming shipments. Time is of the essence, as flowers must be on their way to buyers within a few hours of their arrival.

Bob DiLoreto
For the past four years, FloraHolland has utilized an RFID system that includes several loop antennas embedded in the floor to monitor when tractors pulling trolleys of flowers arrive at the auction floor. These antennas interrogate the Texas Instruments ISO 18000 134.2 KHz passive tag embedded in each passing trolley. The cooperative brings traders daily onto its auction floor, and more than 100,000 trolleys of flowers are moved from one location to another for selling and shipping. The buyers subsequently sell the product to retailers throughout the world. Data about the trolley number and the products on it are displayed on an LED screen on the auction floor, alerting buyers as to which products are heading to auction.

One problem with this initial RFID implementation was that for the interrogators to successfully read the trolley's RFID tags, drivers had to pass directly over the antennas, in single file, slowing traffic. The congestion was complicated by the fact that one motorized tractor can pull more than eight trolleys, each with its own RFID number. FloraHolland needed an RFID system able to capture reads on each RFID tag passing through the existing 30 choke points quickly, where multiple trains of tractors and trolleys move in multiple directions. They also needed to add more choke-point readers in other areas of heavy traffic.

For its new project, FloraHolland is installing a real-time RFID system provided by systems integrator Atos Origin and RFID software provider, GlobeRanger. The Atos/GlobeRanger solution includes reader antennas installed in the floor at 67 choke points around the facility. The system tracks where the flowers have been in a specific location, and for how long. According to Wilrie Multem, FloraHolland's RFID coordinator and a member of the RFID middleware selection team, the antennas are better able to read the tags of the trolleys when the trains are moving freely over the grid of loops.

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