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Container Centralen Adds Active Tags to U.S. Carts

The horticultural logistics company is installing 150 RFID readers at nurseries, greenhouses and fields, as well as at its depots, to track the whereabouts of 250,000 metal carts.
By Claire Swedberg
While Container Centralen intends to provide readers for every customer that ships carts directly to and from retail locations, some of the locations are very remote, lacking power or Internet coverage. In those cases, Medford indicates, RF Code built a solar panel to power the devices, as well as a 3G modem to transmit data via a cellular phone network. "The most basic infrastructure is a simple reader with power and an Ethernet connection," Costin says, while other locations may require a modem and solar power.

According to Costin, the system is expected to be fully deployed by February 2010, in time for the spring growing season. The deployment is beginning in parts of the country in which the growing season starts the earliest, and is then working north, he says. "We've been waiting to move ahead with this for a long time," he states, "and we're very enthusiastic. This will be a major step up. We think we can look forward to having close to 100 percent visibility of our carts."

When a CC depot receives an order for carts, its workers will scan the carts' bar-coded serial numbers, which are linked to data regarding the shipment on the CC server. The staff will not use the RFID system when carts are shipped from the depot, because the interrogators tend to pick up stray reads—from the tags of carts not being shipped, or of those being shipped elsewhere. Costin says he hopes to eventually resolve that issue by using handheld RFID readers, and is presently discussing that solution with RF Code.

After picking up the carts, a customer will take them to its own facility. There, RFID readers at its dock doors will read the ID numbers on the tags and transmit that information to CC's server, where the Fluensee software stores the information, thus confirming the carts were received. The customer will then fill the carts with plants and read the tags once more as loaded carts are wheeled onto trucks to be shipped to a retailer—and again when they are returned empty from that store.

This last read provides the most valuable data, Costin says, since Container Centralen can now have an immediate update regarding which carts are being used by which plant grower after they were removed from the store. The Fluensee system enables CC to determine when carts have been sitting for a long period of time at a retailer (such as those that were shipped much earlier to the store and have not yet returned to any of its customers). In such a scenario, the firm can quickly dispatch a truck to the store to pick up those empty carts, and bring them to one of its depots to be serviced and made available to other customers.

"It's in everyone's interest to get the cart back," Costin says, to be available for reuse by other customers. If Container Centralen sends its own third-party logistics provider to the store to pick up empty carts, those carts are read as they arrive at one of CC's depots.

The tags cost approximately $10 each, Medford indicates, and can last for about seven years.

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