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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
Researchers selected a produce industry application for two reasons, Welcome says. First, RFID can deliver more benefits to produce shippers than other shippers, due to the short shelf life of produce. RPA also felt that a produce study would provide a rigorous shipping environment in which tags can be expected to experience wide temperature fluctuations, as well as wet and dry conditions.

The researchers chose lettuce, in particular, because of its high water content, as well as the potential of water to absorb RF energy and affect tag performance. "We wanted to determine if there would be any degradation in radio signal strength," Welcome states. The apples and peppers were selected to determine whether seeds, pits or shape might affect tag performance.

RPA containers arriving for distribution

In all three cases, produce was loaded in reusable plastic containers (RPCs) from Georgia Pacific, IFCO Systems and ORBIS Container Corp. The produce was then sent to cooling facilities, loaded on trucks and shipped to a Wal-Mart DC in Cleburne, Texas.

The tags were read with Alien Technology and Impinj fixed interrogators, using Alien antennas at the RPC service center set up at the grower locations, at the distribution center and again upon return to the service center. After returning empty from the retailer, the containers were washed, stacked and transported back to the field to be reused and tested a second time. QLM employed Alien and Impinj software to record all read data on Excel spreadsheets, and all RFID tags, interrogators, antennas and hardware used were commercially available products.

The company tagged plastic containers loaded with produce, to be shipped to a Wal-Mart DC.

The study was completed in November of last year, and the six months following were dedicated to data collection and peer review of the results. "Our objective was to sponsor a thorough and scientific study," Welcome says. Although the tags were tested through only two shipping cycles, he notes, "we think it demonstrates that the capability of reusing the tags is there."

The study did not determine just how long the tags could be expected to last, however. "One would hope you would get at least 40 turns on a crate," Welcome says. "We demonstrated that reusing them is possible."

The tags could typically be applied to containers with an adhesive. According to Welcome, the study proves that the tags can withstand the rigors of produce shipping, such as washing and temperature changes. The study is available to RPA members, he says, but may also become available to others for purchase. Interested buyers should contact Welcome through the RPA Web site.

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