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Study Finds Disposable Tags Can Be Reused

A Reusuable Packaging Association study indicates Gen 2 UHF RFID tags can be expected to continue performing on containers making multiple trips through a supply chain—even in harsh conditions.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 03, 2009A study conducted by the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA), an industry group focused on promoting the use of reusable packaging, has found that radio frequency identification tags designed to be disposed of after a single use can be used multiple times and still perform properly on reusable containers.

The study, performed for the RPA by RFID research firm QLM Consulting, used standard ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID adhesive labels based on EPCglobal's Gen 2 standard. The tags were read more than 5,000 times on containers and pallets shipped from a farm to a distribution center (DC) 1,000 miles away. The tags were read accurately within three seconds after two trips, 109 out of 110 times.

An RPA worker affixing an RFID tag

QLM subjected the tags to vibration and shock in a lab setting, then tagged plastic containers loaded with produce and shipped them to a Wal-Mart DC. While many tags were tested, the highest-performing were three Gen 2 tags manufactured by Alien Technology, UPM Raflatac and Avery Dennison.

The study was launched approximately two years ago, says Jerry Welcome, RPA's president and CEO, because the group's members—particularly those in the produce market—were interested in using RFID to track shipments. That interest, in part, was fueled by Wal-Mart's drive to track pallets and cartons tagged by its suppliers. Wal-Mart often receives its produce in reusable containers, Welcome says, making a study of the reuse of RFID tags on such containers that much more desirable for produce shippers.

QLM subjected the tags to vibration and shock in a lab setting.

The study consisted of three phases. In phase one, researchers at Michigan State University's School of Packaging tested the readability of four RFID tags placed containers and pallets. The tagged objects were subject to vibration and drop tests, with a total of about 7,300 reads.

In the second phase, researchers stacked the containers used in phase one on pallets, stretch-wrapped the pallets and shipped them to the Willoughby, Ohio, testing facility of The Kennedy Group, where California State Polytechnic researchers read each tag using a Motorola handheld interrogator.

In the third phase, the containers were loaded with lettuce picked at a Frontera Produce farm in Edinburg, Texas; apples picked at a Stemilt Growers orchard in Wenatchee, Wa.; and peppers at a Tanimura and Antle farm in Salinas, Calif.

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