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Swiss Post Delivers RFID to Its Parcel Centers, Transportation Hubs

The company is adding EPC Gen 2 tags to containers that shuttle mail and packages in and around nearly 50 facilities in Switzerland.
By Rhea Wessel
Aug 20, 2008Swiss Post is rolling out the company's third RFID application—this time a system to track 45,000 rolling container cages used to transport mail and packages at buildings throughout the Alpine country. Implementation of the application, believed to be the largest in Switzerland, began in October 2007 and will be completed by this October.

A public company that provides postal services to Switzerland, Swiss Post transports more than 1 million parcels per year. Wheeled container cages play an important role in transporting the parcels. Before Swiss Post decided to tag its rolling container cages, it had no reliable way to conduct an inventory of them. The company counted them manually every two years, a labor-intensive process that required an estimated 200 workdays involving two people at each location.

Swiss Post uses wheeled container cages such as this one to transport mail and packages at its facilities.
It was unable to account for missing containers, and Swiss Post could not create any statistics to help it use the containers more efficiently. Swiss Post estimates it spent 1 million Swiss francs ($912,000) per year on transporting the containers between sites to make them available as needed. It also believes that loaning out its containers to its business customers costs 50,000 Swiss francs ($46,000) per year.

Now, the company plans to put an end to manual inventory of the cages and save money with the RFID system that it is implementing with the help of Swisscom, a telecommunications and IT products and services company. Swiss Post is installing 750 RFID interrogators at its three parcel centers and at 44 transportation hubs. Each parcel center uses a highly automated parcel-sorting machine. After the sorting process, parcels destined for specific regions are transported to another center for re-sorting or to a hub for delivery either directly or via the proper post offices.

The interrogators, made by Intermec, are being deployed at all of the facilities' entry and exit points. The devices resemble the portal electronic article surveillance (EAS) readers installed at the doors of many department stores, but instead of having two upright posts, one on each side of the door, Swiss Post's portals have only one. Radar technology allows the RFID reader to detect if the tagged roll cage is being moved in or out of the building. The radar and the reader hardware are managed by middleware from Seeburger. Because RFID is combined with radar and the system can detect whether the cages are being moved in or out of a door, only one post is needed. So far, Swiss Post has outfitted the three parcel centers and 17 other buildings, with a total of 400 to 450 readers currently in operation, says Thierry Gafner, the Bern-based head of sorting systems and technology for PostLogistics, a division of Swiss Post that provides logistics services.

Each cage is fitted with an EPC Gen 2 tag made by Confidex. Encased in a plastic housing, the tag is attached to the upper edge of the cage. A total of 38,000 cages have already been tagged so far. Swiss Post chose the EPC Gen 2 because it sees it as a market standard and because of the tags' low cost, an average of 2.40 Swiss francs (about $2) apiece. In addition, it expects its customers—including those companies for which it performs logistic services—to begin using EPC Gen 2 tags more frequently, so experience with the technology will help prepare Swiss Post to meet its customers' requests, says Gafner.

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