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At Metro's New Future Store, RFID Helps Assure Meat Quality

The company's Real Future Store is using EPC Gen 2 tags to track individual packages of meat, ensuring its display cases are well stocked, and that no one buys expired products.
By Claire Swedberg
"We had to overcome both challenges," says Ian Forster, Avery Dennison's RFID technical director. The resulting 4- by 1.5-half inch tag wraps around the corner of the foam tray, and includes an adhesive and a clear plastic laminate over the tag itself that provides a barrier between the meat and the electronics. Fasson Roll Materials Europe, a division of Avery Dennison, provided the adhesive, which complies with the German government's recommendations for use with food.

The intention, Forster says, is to protect the electronics from damage by the food, and to shield the meat from contamination by the tag. Although the tags do not touch the meat specifically, the trays are stacked on top of each other until they are loaded with meat, at which time one tray's tag could make contact with the inside of another tray stacked beneath it.

RFID interrogators built into the refrigerated display cases monitor the store's meat inventory.

"We found the AD-222 was very suitable," Forster says. "It had all the right characteristics" to render it readable from a variety of angles by both fixed and handheld interrogators. In testing the tags, he adds, Avery Dennison tried "jumbling the meat up, and we still got very good read performance."

Impinj undertook its own testing in its Seattle site, says Ramone Hecker, Impinj's senior director of RFID solutions, and worked closely with Avery Dennison to design a reader and antenna array that worked best with the AD-222 in the meat environment. Impinj is providing its Speedway readers, as well as antennas.

For the Future Store deployment, Impinj researchers developed a mechanical mockup to mimic the cooler environment in which the meat tags needed to be read. Based on that mockup, they opted to embed the reader antennas in all four corners of the racks on which the meat is stacked, focused up toward the center of the coolers. Because the antennas are sealed into the racks, they are protected from water damage when the racks are washed.

When a consumer purchases an item, an Impinj reader at the point of sale captures the tray tag's EPC number one more time, which is stored in the EPCIS database, indicating the meat was purchased—and when. Metro is using hundreds of thousands of tags for the pilot, Cornick says, adding that the performance has been "very impressive" thus far.

"The quality-assurance system within Metro Group has a very high standard," Wolfram states. "The use of RFID supports our employees in guaranteeing quality assurance by reducing the need for manual checks and making the processes more efficient."

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