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Growers and Grocers Get Into Plastic Pallet Pool

While the plastic pallets' lightweight and environmental benefits first wooed its customers, iGPS hopes RFID-powered traceability will convince more to begin using its pallets.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 19, 2007Several fresh food providers are beginning to use plastic RFID-enabled pallets made by Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS) rather than wooden pallets without RFID tags. Thus far, RFID has helped iGPS better manage the flow of its pallets, through more accurate and timely shipping and receiving records, while end users are still weighing the benefits of using the pallets' embedded RFID tags for shipment tracking within their own management systems.

Schoeller Arca Systems (SAS) makes the plastic pallets used by iGPS and its clients (see IGPS Rolls Out RFID-Enabled Plastic Pallets). To help meet the growing demand, SAS will double its capacity to manufacture iGPS pallets, using Xterprise's XARM 6000 solution to embed RFID tags at three additional assembly lines at its Michigan plant.

Despite the RFID-enabled tracking capabilities offered by iGPS, companies that ship food products say the pallets' primary attraction is their plastic composition, which they claim is lighter, more hygienic and sturdier than wood. Martori Farms, a produce grower in Scottsdale Ariz., and HEB Grocery Co., based in San Antonio, Texas, are among the iGPS converts.

Martori Farms ships the broccoli and melons it grows to distribution centers nationwide, which then transfer the produce to local retailers. "We have been urging our pallet suppliers to develop a plastic product for many years," says Paul Fleming, VP of marketing and business development for Martori Farms. "IGPS presented an option that included the benefits we desired in a pallet." Such advantages included the elimination of broken boards, wood pieces and nails from wooden pallets, which he says "were littering our warehouse floors."

The grower was attracted to the pallets because they are 50 percent lighter than wood pallets, which reduces shipping costs associated with fuel consumption, and also because they are washable and made of recyclable material. While Fleming says he hopes to eventually use the RFID tags more extensively for tracking the movement of Martori's products in the supply chain, he currently employs an RFID reader only at the distribution center, to verify the shipping and receiving of pallets.

"Integration of our WMS [warehouse management system] with the iGPS [tracking] system will take some time," Fleming states. Using Martori's WMS, he says, he hopes to marry the RFID number encoded to the pallet tag with the company's own pallet license plate number—printed on a label attached to each shipment, and associated with a specific shipment and product being shipped—and use that to advance its own product-tracking and trace-back systems. "We currently use our own pallet tag number for advance shipping notices and billing, and the RFID union will enhance that process [by making it automatic]," he says.

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