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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
Schuitema delivers goods to 450 of its C1000 supermarkets throughout the Netherlands. One of those stores—C1000 Supermarket Mario de Veij, in Bergen op Zoom—participated in the pilot. When the C1000 store placed an order for vegetables, the interrogator at the DC's dock doors read the tags once more as the crates were loaded on trucks. After the shipment arrived at the C1000 store, the tags were interrogated at that site's dock doors before being moved into cold storage. They were then read again as they were removed from cold storage and taken to the sales floor. Ultimately, the empty crates were returned to the Schuitema distribution center, where they were read at receiving and loading, and finally as they were received by Heemskerk for reuse. Container Centralen provided the reusable crate pool management.

Whenever the tags were scanned, KPN's CyberCenter software system translated data from the readers to business information. According to Hess, the system used EPC Information Service (EPCIS) and EPC Discovery Service applications to make the data available via a Web site to all pilot participants, including the shipper, distributor and retailer.

At Schuitema's DC in Breda en Woerden, the crates' tags were read by a fixed interrogator.

Temperature loggers, designed by Wageningen University and Research Center (WUR), were placed in several of the crates during four separate shipments. Every five minutes, the loggers saved the temperature reading. The loggers were read manually at the end of each cycle, and in the event of a bad temperature read, the incident could then be traced back by time and location with the RFID supply chain data to discover where the problem occurred. Data from the loggers was also downloaded with RFID data into the EPCIS system. "As expected, we didn't detect any bad temperatures at Heemskerk and the DC," Hess says, adding that no instances of inappropriate temperatures were recorded at the store.

An alarm application working in conjunction with the RFID system was in place to alert workers to instances when a crate loaded with produce was out of cold storage for more then 15 minutes. In such a scenario, the system would have been able to send a voice message or e-mail to supply chain members. Two alarm zones were implemented: one between the moment product was received at C1000's back door and the time it entered cold storage, and another between leaving cold storage and being reported empty or returned into cold storage.

Workers at Heemskerk's production facility filled tagged crates with packaged cut vegetables.

"The use of RFID technology enables the sharing of information between different partners in the supply chain," Bakker states. "This leads to transparency and, ultimately, to a product of better quality." He says he sees benefits in more accurate anticipation of stock at distributors and stores, a reduced product loss of 10 percent, additional sales due to improved shelf stocking, higher-quality product because of reduced delays in the supply chain, and reduced cost related to delivery errors.

With all these benefits in mind, Bakker says he estimates a return on investment at 2.7 years, provided all supply chain partners participate. Schuitema has yet to decide when full deployment will proceed, he says, adding that to be successful, "all chain participants must share enthusiasm for RFID—suppliers and retailers."

With the pilot completed, crates are no longer being tagged. For future deployment, tags may be molded into the crates by the crate manufacturers to reduce the labor and expense of tagging crates.

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