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RFID Helps Dallas Morning News Distribute Correct Fliers

The newspaper employs EPC Gen 2 tags to track the delivery of carts loaded with Sunday supplements, and to make sure they go to the appropriate distribution center.
By Claire Swedberg
An Alien 9800 interrogator captures the cart's tag ID number, and a Cannon NCL Series II cart loader mechanically loads the cart with about 40 insert bundles. The RFID reader communicates data, via an Ethernet cable connection, to a PC workstation with a Web-based server. As the cart is loaded with specific bundles, the system is updated to show which truck and DC should receive it.

When the cart is pushed onto the truck, it passes through one of eight dock doors, each equipped with another Alien 9800 portal reader. If the cart passes through a dock door corresponding to an inappropriate distribution center for its load, an alert is triggered, letting the staff know the cart is being incorrectly routed. The dock door readers are also connected to PC work stations via an Ethernet cable, so the system updates Cannon's Cart Operating and Management Enterprise Tracking (Comet) software to indicate a cart filled with bundles has been shipped.

Pat Geraghty
Each of the 12 distribution centers has Alien interrogators at its dock doors, and these devices capture the cart tag's ID number, thereby notifying the system that a shipment has been received. As the empty carts are shipped back to the plant, their tags are read once more, providing visibility regarding the locations of empty carts.

With the RFID system, Geraghty says, the newspaper knows which cart was loaded and with which inserts, as well as which truck it was loaded onto and when, which distribution center it arrived at and when, and how many empty carts are located in trucks. That data is accessible to any Dallas Morning News employee with user rights to the network. The newspaper can also provide data to advertisers, assuring them their content was shipped to the appropriate distributor.

The system's deployment went smoothly, May says, noting, "The installation and bringing the system up on line has been relatively seamless for us." The high-level of metals, however, posed some difficulties. "The carts are made of steel tubing, which presented particular challenges in setting up the RFID portal for accurate reads," Geraghty explains. "We used a combination of antenna positioning, attenuation adjustments and software to optimize the portals."

One future goal, according to Geraghty, would be to extend the tracking of inserts, as well as newspapers, further into the distribution system. The system, as it is currently set up, tracks Dallas Morning News inserts only to the distribution centers. At that point, inserts are handed out to delivery contractors, who place them inside newspapers and deliver the completed editions to their final destinations (such as homes, retail locations or vending machines). Tracking the hand-off of the inserts or papers to these delivery contractors could be accomplished through a combination of RFID and bar codes.

"Longer-term," Geraghty says, "RFID tagging of each paper could provide tracking to its final destination—the customer." May says he hopes to see a contiguous loop in the entire newspaper supply chain visibility such as Geraghty describes, but that he can not estimate when that might occur.

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