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Finnish Automotive Forwarder Revs Up Its Operations

By deploying EPC RFID tags, Assistor finds that it can move more vehicles and reduce mix-ups.
By Rhea Wessel
Jun 11, 2008A Finnish forwarder, Assistor Oy, is using passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to track new imported cars from the time the company receives them at port until it delivers the vehicles to their next handler. With 25,000 EPC Gen 2 tags presently in deployment, the project is Finland's largest application of RFID in business or production processes, according to Digia, the firm that supplied and implemented the system for Assistor.

Assistor operates vehicle terminals in the Finnish ports of Hanko and Paldiski, and also maintains a terminal in Espoo for handling parts shipments. In 2007, the company forwarded 266,000 new cars for 20 manufacturers, including BMW, Chrysler and Toyota. This year, it expects to handle more than 300,000 cars.

An Assistor employee hangs an EPC Gen 2 RFID tag on each vehicle's rearview and reads it via a handheld interrogator.

Last year, Assistor decided to update its IT system. Digia, a Helsinki-based provider of information and communications technology, recommended its RFID-compatible Digia Enterprise ERP software and system, which Assistor tested and rolled out in December 2007. "With the RFID system, we have been able to handle more cars with the same number of staff," says Tom Suvanto, Assistor's deputy managing director, though he declines to provide specific figures.

Before implementing RFID, the company relied on a bar-code and paper-based tracking system. When a car was received, workers scanned a bar-coded label on the vehicle's front or back windshield, thereby collecting its unique 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN). Some carmakers don't use bar codes, however, and the bar codes were often unreadable. If a bar code could not be scanned, employees entered the VIN manually. The VIN was then used to identify the car on all printed work orders, such as instructions for a worker to take the vehicle to the car wash or holding area.

With RFID, workers can now identify cars more quickly. What's more, they experience fewer mix-ups regarding which cars go where, and the system is essentially paperless. When Assistor receives a car at port, an employee utilizes a Nordic ID handheld computer to scan its bar-coded VIN. (This is the only bar-code scan necessary, unless an RFID tag is damaged or missing. In such a case, the bar code acts as a backup.) Then, using the same Nordic ID handheld device—which includes an RFID interrogator—a worker reads an RFID tag.

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