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Schuitema Ponders Future of Fresh-Chain Pilot

The Dutch supermarket operator and wholesaler says its Vers Schakel produce-tracking project proves the use of passive EPC RFID tags can provide many benefits—but only if all supply chain partners participate.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 10, 2007Supermarket operator and wholesaler Schuitema reports that its two-year pilot tracking the fresh food supply chain in the Netherlands showed that the use of RFID can provide a range of benefits. However, the company says, the pilot participants—which include logistics and produce providers—have yet to decide when to launch further pilots or proceed to full deployment.

The mission of the pilot, known as Vers Schakel (Fresh Chain), was to study how RFID technology could help ensure the quality of fresh cut vegetables as they pass through the supply chain. The participants measured whether the use of RFID could improve shelf availability, decrease losses and errors and add a level of visibility to the supply chain, thereby increasing efficiency. The pilot, which ended in April of this year, proved RFID could offer improvements in all of these areas, according to Schuitema's project leader, Erik Hess.

For the Vers Schakel project, EPC Gen 2 RFID tags were applied to 2,500 reusable plastic crates.

Dutch food-safety laws currently require a set of procedures involving visual and temperature checks as fresh produce is shipped from the field to retailers. Throughout the supply chain, producers, distributors and retailers are expected to check the appearance of fruits and vegetables, monitor the produce's temperature and record the data manually, either on paper or keyed into a PC.

The methods presently used to fulfill the requirement, says Rene Bakker, Schuitema's retail director and chairman of the Vers Schakel steering committee, involve numerous manual processes and can result in mistakes, such as product being misrouted or left outside of cold storage for too long. "People make mistakes and are not as efficient as automated processes," he explains. For example, food-safety laws require that when fresh produce is in transit, records must be kept regarding its condition, temperature and time spent in the supply chain.

At the C1000 store, the tags were read prior to going into cold storage.

The RFID system devised for Vers Schakel could make such data collection more accurate through automation, and less prone to human error. With a manual system, , says Mark Flederus, RFID lead consultant at Capgemini Nederland and Vers Schakel project manager, there is no real-time relationship between the physical flow of goods and the informational record chronicling that flow. In other words, supply chain partners must wait for an employee to record, input and upload data to a database before they can access it. With such a delay, problems such as products being misdirected or left too long outside of cold storage might not be caught until goods are already damaged or lost.

For the pilot, NXP Semiconductors applied adhesive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags (made with RFID inlays from several vendors, including UPM Raflatac) to 2,500 reusable plastic crates, provided by Centraal Bureau Levensmiddelenhandel (CBL), a Dutch supermarket trade group and crate supplier.

Produce distributor W. Heemskerk loaded the crates with packaged cut vegetables at its production facility. As the crates were loaded onto trucks, RFID portals at the facility's dock doors read the crates' tags. The portals, which featured RFID interrogators provided by Intellident, were tested and configured by RFIQ Solutions. The crates were then transported to one of Schuitema's six distribution centers in Breda en Woerden. At that DC's receiving dock, , Flederus says, a fixed RFID interrogator read the crate tags.

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