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Produce Growers and Container Coalition Conduct RFID Field Test

The study will track 3,000 reusable containers carrying goods from produce growers in three states to Wal-Mart stores in Texas, to determine whether RFID tags can survive multiple shipment cycles.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 03, 2007Nonprofit group Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition (RPCC), representing members of the reusable transport packaging industry, is conducting a field test of RFID technology by attaching tags to 3,000 reusable containers carrying goods from produce growers in three states to Wal-Mart stores in Texas. The study aims to determine whether RFID tags can survive multiple shipment cycles as the containers carry fresh produce to the retailers, and follows lab testing of Gen 2 RFID tags attached to plastic containers (see Reusable Pallet and Container Coalition Studies RFID).

Lab testing began in June 2006, when Quality Logistics Management (QLM), an RFID solutions provider, launched a study measuring failure rates of nine brands of Gen 2 tags at Michigan State University's School of Packaging. At the school's lab, researchers tested how well tags could sustain temperature fluctuations, vibration and the shock of sudden 5-foot drops, says Michael McCartney, QLM's founder and principal.

Michael McCartney
The tags were tested by Cal Polytechnic State University professor Jay Singh at The Kennedy Group in Cleveland to determine how well the tags could be read following the abuse they underwent in Michigan. Of the nine brands, McCartney says, three performed at 100 percent: Alien Technology, Avery Dennison and UPM Raflatac.

For the latest phase of project, designed to test the tags in the real world, the team picked one tag model from each the three best-performing brands (McCartney declines to specify the exact tag models). Three participating growers—Stemilt, in Wenatchee, Wash.; Tanimura & Antle, in Salinas, Calif.; and Frontera Produce, in Edinburg, Texas—have each been tagging 1,000 containers with freezer-grade adhesive labels. Each label is attached to a label holder on a container's center, below its handles, and in some cases, on the container's upper left corner. The containers will be shipped to Wal-Mart's distribution center (DC) in Cleburne, Texas, then on to 100 Wal-Mart stores, also in Texas. Each container will be shipped through three separate cycles.

In the case of Stemilt, the Washington apple grower picks its apples, loads them into bins, and brings them back to the plant for processing. The fruit is cleaned, sorted and loaded into Georgia-Pacific reusable plastic containers with Avery Dennison RFID tags. Each tag is encoded with a unique ID number. The apple-filled containers are loaded onto wooden pallets and shrink-wrapped, and a "parent" RFID tag, in the form of an adhesive paper label, is attached to the pallet load. That parent tag is discarded after one cycle.

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