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Australian Companies Say Pallet-Tracking Project Proves RFID's Mettle
CHEP, P&G, ACCO and other participants used EPC Gen 2 tags to track the delivery and return of wooden pallets, achieving perfect read rates throughout the supply chain.
Telstra's EPCIS-compliant Adaptive Asset Manager (AAM) software was used to manage and share the RFID data collected during the pilot, which participants were able to access via a Web interface. The data was also communicated to handheld Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) used by CHEP truck drivers.
The frequency employed in the pilot ranged from 920 to 926 MHz (UHF), the Australian UHF RFID band, using a combination of 1 and 4 watts of radiated power (fixed readers transmitted signals of up to 4 watts of power, while the handheld scanners operated at 1 watt).
CHEP truck drivers read the tags while picking up pallets for an order (which they accessed via the PDA) and loading them onto trucks for delivery to Capilano Honey, P&G, ACCO or MasterFoods. As each pallet passed a fixed RFID reader, its tag information was sent to Telstra's AAM, then relayed via GPRS to the driver's PDA. At that point, an indicator light on the PDA software changed to yellow status, showing that pallets were being read for that order. Once all the pallets were read, matching the quantity expected for the order, the PDA indicator turned green, after which the driver departed to deliver the pallets to the customer.
Fixed RFID interrogators deployed at the customers' sites also read the tagged pallets as they were being as each block of pallets was unloaded from a truck, enabling the system to confirm individual pallets in a given block. Once again, Telstra's AAM system passed the information to the driver's PDA, which indicated a yellow status light to indicate the pallets were being read. Once all pallet tags were read, the PDA indicator turned green. If there were no discrepancies, the driver could close the order. If a discrepancy existed, says Fane, "this meant we had the ability to resolve them there and then, rather than waiting for a subsequent reconciliation process."
A returns process was also tested. Westgate retrieved empty pallets from Franklins and read their tags as they passed through its facility and were taken to CHEP's warehouse. There, the pallet tags were read once more. "The real key to success, though, was the way this data was integrated into the systems," says Fane. "Orders were entered into our system and deliveries scheduled for our trucks, and this was the last time we had any manual data entry in the process."
With accurate reads occurring 100 percent of the time, the pilot was able to demonstrate successful electronic proof of deliveries (ePODs). "Each pallet has a unique number, so you can account for every pallet individually," says Palazzolo. "This ensures that reconciliation is done to the point where you can get your full electronic proof of delivery. Instead of having to write anything down and rekey it, everything is done electronically. Proving that RFID can be used to get a 100 percent read rate is what gave us our proof of delivery—it takes away any uncertainty. It also removes the manual checking processes, so there are additional benefits around process efficiency."
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