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TNT Express Says RFID Keeps Its Cages Rolling Across Europe

After attaching Wi-Fi-based tags to 16,000 wheeled containers, the delivery services company can more easily make sure its 200 European depots and hubs have the quantities they need.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 12, 2010Delivery services firm TNT Express is employing radio frequency identification to track the locations of 16,000 metal roll cages, which it loads with packages and ships by truck from one European depot or hub to another. The system, provided by AeroScout, provides the company with insight into where its carts are located, so that it can better know which carts are located where, and redistribute them accordingly, prior to anticipated heavy shipping cycles, such as at Christmas. The system went live in early 2009, and the company has since found that it has improved efficiencies in the depots by providing up-to-date inventory information without requiring depot employees to count each container.

The company ships 4.4 million parcels weekly, and has a workforce of 75,000 employees. It is the fourth largest express delivery company in the world, and the largest in Europe. Parcels are shipped in trucks, after first being loaded into metal roll cages that measure approximately 6 feet tall and several feet wide. The carts serve two functions—to protect parcels from damage in the loading and unloading process, and to make it easy to load parcels into the back of a vehicle. Packages are placed in the carts, which are put on trucks (up to 50 per vehicle). The truck then transports the carts to another TNT depot or hub. Once unloaded, they remain at that location until being reloaded with parcels to be sent to another depot, or transported elsewhere, empty.

An AeroScout Wi-Fi Tag attached to a TNT Express roll cage
At times, there are too many roll cages at some depots, and too few at others. To determine how many cages are on the premises on a daily basis, depot personnel must manually count the roll cages throughout the facilities, which are often very large. If there are too many or insufficient cages for the number of parcels expected at that depot, workers must then place phone calls to other sites to determine how those cages can be most quickly transported to the location at which they are most needed.

"In order to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers," says John Malia, the company's chief architect, "TNT Express operates an extensive collection of hubs and depots, interconnected by a series of air and road networks." Thus, he indicates, effective management of the assets used in that network is critical to the company.

TNT Express began seeking a system that would improve the visibility of the roll cages that travel by road between the depots and hubs, as well as reduce man hours spent on inventory checks and provide better planning to meet changing package volumes. The company met with AeroScout and chose to utilize a Wi-Fi-based system that would leverage the company's existing Wi-Fi infrastructure at its 200 European depots and hubs, scattered across 29 countries. The system includes T2 Industrial 2.4 GHz tags, attached to the top of the cages (one tag per cage), and AeroScout's MobileView software to display a map of all 200 depots and hubs, along with the quantity of cages located at each site. It took several months for the tags to be attached to every one of the 16,000 roll cages used by TNT's European operation, says Amir Ben-Assa, AeroScout's director of industry solutions. Once that was accomplished, however, the system took only a few days to launch, he notes.

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