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Plant Nursery Raises Efficiency With RFID

Color Point is employing EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags to track the metal carts it uses to deliver plants to Lowe's, Sam's Club and other retailers, as well as to speed up the truck-loading process.
By Claire Swedberg
In early 2008, Slattery says he began discussions with SATO, which offered to provide a system with a 100 percent read rate. SATO replaced the HF readers with ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) interrogators from Alien Technology, and installed two readers, one for each of the two dock doors, with antennas mounted above the floor. The firm placed Avery Dennison's AD-222 EPC Gen 2 tags on the bottoms of the carts, according to John Anderson, SATO's national sales manager, and provided its iTrack software, which resides on Color Point's back-end system, to enable the nursery to create loading plans for each trailer, as well as track the shipment of each cart.

The resulting system enables Color Point to load trucks faster and more efficiently by knowing how many carts are intended for which location—and, thus, where they should be loaded in the trucks. When a trailer is loaded, data regarding that shipment and trailer number are entered into the system, which can be accessed at a PC within the warehouse. A screen cabled to that PC then displays a diagram of the truck, with squares to signify each cart. The system displays a list of which carts need to be loaded, as well as in what order, based on their ID numbers and descriptions. A truck will typically have several stops on its route, with the system designed so that the trailer is loaded in such a way that the carts can be unloaded in the order of the stops, without requiring repacking.

Each cart is fitted with two RFID tags encoded with the same ID number.

Color Point employed a SATO GL408e thermal printer and RFID encoder to write a unique ID number to the RFID labels, then fitted each cart with two labels—one above the front right wheel, the other above the front left—encoded with the same ID number. When a cart passes through either of the two dock doors, the RFID interrogator at that location captures its tag ID number and transmits that information to the iTrack system via a cabled connection. The tag's unique identifier is linked to the shipment number in the system, thereby allowing Color Point's management to know when the cart was shipped, to which store and in which truck. Warehouse workers can then look on the screen to see what they have loaded, which cart should be loaded next and whether they have loaded any incorrect carts.

When an empty cart is returned to Color Point's facilities, the interrogators capture its tag ID number, thereby documenting the return against the retail customer's account.

The system makes it possible for the company's management to track the length of time carts are in specific retail locations, thereby knowing how many empty carts will be available and approximately when, thus allowing for fewer trips to pick up empties.

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