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EPAL Moves Ahead With RFID Pallet-Tagging Pilot

The European Pallet Association is successfully using EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags to track 1,000 pallets in Switzerland, and plans to expand the pilot to additional countries in 2009.
By Rhea Wessel
Nov 13, 2008The European Pallet Association (EPAL), the organization that oversees the production, repair and inspection of more than 500 million so-called EURO pallets each year, is so pleased with its RFID pilot that it is continuing the project beyond its planned termination date, Harry Jacobi, the association's CEO, told attendees at last week's RFID Journal LIVE! Europe conference in Prague.

The pilot was designed to test the feasibility of employing radio frequency identification to improve EPAL's ability to monitor the pallets' quality, and to explore how the use of RFID could benefit product suppliers and retailers. With the information gained from the implementation, the organization has written a business case for further RFID-based pallet tracking.

Harry Jacobi
"The results are so nice that we decided to continue the project," Jacobi said, noting his satisfaction with the system's ability to successfully read 100 percent of the tags, and with the speed at which pallets are identified.

The European Pallet Association began planning the trial in early 2007, then commenced a test of EPC Gen 2-based RFID technology in July 2008. EPAL had originally planned to end the test this month. One of the organization's partner companies, Holliger Pallet Logistics, affixed EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags to 1,000 pallets in Switzerland. Holliger was selected because it manufactures, sorts and repairs pallets.

The RFID system tracks pallets as they move throughout Holliger's facilities. The first read point is after a pallet is produced and fitted with two RFID tags encoded with the same Electronic Product Code (EPC) number (each pallet has two tags so they can be read from either side). Pallets are carried by forklift through a portal reader prior to being shipped to a customer—in this case, retailer Migros. Once the pallets are returned, a forklift moves stacks of pallets through another RFID portal at Holliger's facilities, to determine which pallets have come back to the facility.

The next read point is after the pallets have moved through Holliger's automatic sorting machine. Interrogators are mounted along the belt of the machine that determines if the pallets are in a good state of repair. "Qualified" pallets—that is, those in a good state—are then stored for further use, while pallets deemed "unqualified" are moved to the repair area. The EPC number encoded to each pallet's two tags is associated in the database with repair-status information regarding those pallets. After the pallets are restored, their tags are read once more, and the pallets are registered as qualified.

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