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Cost Plus World Market Finds RFID Sweet Spot in Yard Management

The specialty retailer has deployed an RFID-based real-time location system to monitor trailers arriving at its main distribution center in Northern California, and to expedite the receipt of goods.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 18, 2008While most retailers are putting RFID to the test for pallet-, case- and sometimes item-level product tracking, Cost Plus World Market (CPWM), a large specialty retailer of food, furniture and other home goods, is using the technology in a different way. CPWM is employing an RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS) to monitor its fleet of trailers at its main distribution center in Northern California.

Cost Plus World Market operates nearly 300 stores in 34 states, with a reported 2007 revenue of over $1 billion. The retailer has begun tracking the 75 trailers in its fleet using the Yard Hound yard management system made by PINC Solutions, based in Berkeley, Calif. The system utilizes passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags encased in rugged housing and permanently mounted onto the trailers.

CPWM truck drivers can use a touch-screen computer to see a map of the yard, showing them where each trailer should be placed.

An RFID interrogator built into the yard's entrance gate reads the tag of an arriving trailer. Once that trailer has entered the yard, its tag is read by an RFID interrogator built into PINC's Tracker appliance, which is mounted inside a yard truck, also known as a shunt truck, used to reposition trailers within the yard. As the truck moves through the yard, it passes within range of the trailer's tag and its Tracker collects the tag ID, associating it with the location coordinates determined by its built-in GPS receiver.

Because the truck is in motion, the Tracker appliance also contains inertial sensors to measure the yard truck's movement in relation to stationary trailers. The sensors measure such things as the yard truck's acceleration and rotation. This data, along with the signal strength of the tag reads, is plugged into algorithms developed by PINC, to pinpoint each trailer's location.

The Tracker stores the trailer's location data, along with a time stamp, and sends that information to PINC's Web-based software platform as soon as the appliance is in range of one of the yard's Wi-Fi (802.11) access points. PINC's server collects the information from the various yard trucks as they arrive, merges that data with a map of the facility, and presents a real-time picture of activities in the yard.

CPWM yard personnel access this map by logging onto the Yard Hound software, linked to the company's yard management system, which includes each trailer's shipping manifests. This way, each worker sees not only the trailer's ID number, but also information about the products being carried within. CPWM can set the Yard Hound software to trigger alarms if, for instance, a specific trailer is not moved to an unloading dock within a given timeframe once it enters the yard's trailer storage area. This feature is designed to ensure that seasonal product is unloaded and distributed according to schedule, or that perishable goods stored in a refrigerated trailer are processed before they spoil.

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