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Thai Shrimp Exporters Use RFID for Automation, Traceability

The technology helps the companies reduce labor costs and improve the ability to trace the foods' origin and processing in the event of a product recall.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Each group of shrimp does not remain together in the same tote throughout the various processing steps. The animals are grouped by size and other factors, but before a worker moves any shrimp from one tote to another, the first tote's tag is read. That data is then sent to the back-end software, where it is correlated with the tag ID of the tote to which the shrimp is being transferred. This process makes it impossible to determine where each individual shrimp in a tote at the end of the processing line comes from. However, the fish companies keep a manifest of all farms from which a group of shrimp was derived. Employees can also trace the date and time at which the shrimp entered the processing system. All of these data points were previously collected manually.

Middleware created by IE Technology controls all data encoded to the tags. It also collects and processes the read events, sending the appropriate data to Web-based software developed by the FXA Group, a food-industry software firm. Both plants utilize this software to track food products through processing and transportation. This data can later be shared with the fish company's customers or customs officials.

The companies began testing the technology in December 2005, Thongprasert says, then rolled out the tracking system on a permanent basis in March of this year. The projects were partially funded by Thailand's National Innovation Agency. IE Technology and the FXA Group covered the costs of their own product development related to the project.

The total budget to RFID-enable the two sites was $14.6 million baht ($476,306), Thongprasert notes, adding that both companies are pleased with the systems. Charoen Pokphand, Thongprasert says, is interested in expanding the system to record the productivity of individual workers, as well as analyze the efficiency of its shrimp-processing steps.

In addition, Thongprasert states, a number of other food manufacturers and exporters in Thailand have expressed interest in deploying similar systems. IE Technology is currently working with a grower of asparagus to track the produce from its point of harvest, through transportation and to a retailer.

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