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Metro Expanding Use of RFID, for Both Pallets and Cases

The retailer says it is seeing positive results across its various RFID initiatives, and it plans expansions in 2008.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 11, 2008By the end of September, German retail conglomerate Metro Group will deploy RFID readers at an additional 200 of its Real hypermarkets in Germany, according to Roger Davies, general manager of European UHF business for Checkpoint Systems, the retail technology provider whose EPC Gen 2-compliant RFID readers are to be installed at the stores. The company's readers are already used at 100 Real locations in the country. The portals will be used to track pallets as they arrive at the stores, although Checkpoint says the same portals will be eventually be used for case-level tracking, as well, when Metro begins expanding its use of RFID for tracking cases of goods—something it started testing for past two years.

In 2007, Metro installed RFID interrogators at 130 of its Cash & Carry wholesale stores in Germany (see Metro Fleshes Out Its RFID Plans). At its German Cash & Carry stores, 40 percent of all merchandise sold is now supplied on tagged pallets. The company says it is preparing to roll out RFID technology at its Cash & Carry locations in France.

Since July 2006, the retailer has been running a technology trial in which it places RFID tags on cases of goods on mixed pallets shipped from a distribution center in Essen, Germany, to an RFID-enabled Extra retail store in Rheinberg. Metro has been conducting the case-level pilot in collaboration with Intel Solution Services, the chipmakers' professional services division. Intel servers are used to collect and transmit the tag data to a central server located at Metro's RFID Innovation Center in Neuss. The Essen DC and Extra test store are linked to this central server via a wide area network.

Unlike Wal-Mart and Target in the United States, German retail conglomerate Metro has not required its suppliers to begin placing RFID tags on cases of goods. Rather, it has asked them to tag pallets carrying cases of goods, and it now has nearly 200 suppliers doing so on goods sent to many of its supermarkets and retail stores. On mixed pallets (those carrying a variety of different goods) that Metro ships from its distribution centers to its Cash & Carry retail stores, the retailer applies its own RFID tags to pallets in order to automate their tracking and receipt.

Metro Cash & Carry personnel place labels with embedded passive UHF EPC Gen 2 RFID inlays on cases as they are pulled from a shelves inside the Essen DC. The tagged cases are then placed on a conveyor that brings them to a pallet-building station. RFID readers mounted along the conveyor read the tags on the cases and send the EPC data on each tag to a central database. Once the mixed pallets of goods are built, the case tags are read again and associated with an EPC on a pallet tag. The case and pallet tags are read once more as the pallets move through a portal while being loaded onto a truck bound for the Extra store. Once the pallets are received at the store, readers collect the EPCs from the case and pallet tags and compare the data to advance shipment notices sent from the distribution center through Metro's EDI system, which is now part of the retailer's Web-based Metro Link portal. Metro also announced last week that starting in mid-2008, suppliers participating in the RFID rollout will be able to log on to Metro Link to see exactly when and where shipments of their have been received.

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