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Dutch Horticultural Supply Chain Tests RFID "From Plant to Customer"

Growers, exporters and shippers are using EPC RFID tags to track the location of each tray of plants, ensure the accuracy of shipments and reduce labor.
By Claire Swedberg
The Interaxi software compares the products on the trolley with the order destined for Sierteelt and displays a list, along with any discrepancies, on a screen mounted above the grower's dock doors. At the same time, the software updates the order's status, indicating what has been shipped, and when. In that way, Sierteelt can then access the server and determine when the trolleys were shipped, and thus when they could be expected to arrive.

When the shipment arrives at Sierteelt Direct, the trolleys pass through another Motorola portal (there are two at the site—one for incoming trolleys, and another for outgoing), updating the system to indicate the order's receipt. The trolleys are coupled together and then moved through the second (outgoing) portal via a tractor, thereby updating the system that Sierteelt has loaded specific orders onto a truck bound for Hamiplant. Although in the case of the pilot, all tagged product trays are being shipped to Hamiplant, if the RFID system were expanded to include other exporters, Heemskerk says, a screen above the portal could warn a tractor driver if there was a discrepancy—such as a trolley being loaded onto a truck bound for the wrong exporter.

Hamiplant installed an RFID portal where trolleys are repacked with plants to match retailers' specific orders.
At Hamiplant, the trolleys are typically unloaded and repacked to match retailers' specific orders. Therefore, Interaxi installed three portals: one at an incoming dock door, one in the repacking area and another at an outgoing dock door. As the tags pass through the portals, the status of the trolley and its trays is updated in the system software, and made available to interested parties in the supply chain. As the items are unloaded and repacked, specific orders are linked to the RFID tags on each tray, and the software compares the order against what should be loaded onto the trolley, thus ensuring the order is correctly filled. The trays are then linked to the new trolley's RFID tag.

At Hamiplant's outgoing dock door, the trolleys are loaded onto trucks operated by Breewel Transport, which installed RFID portals at two of its facilities. One portal is located at Breewel's distribution center in Hazeldonk, the Netherlands, from which orders are delivered directly to retailers. The other is located at Breewel's Paris DC, where trays are unloaded and then reloaded onto smaller trucks for delivery to stores in the vicinity. Once the tagged trays and trolleys leave the Hazeldonk and Paris DCs, the RFID-based tracking process is completed, since the tags are not being read by retailers.

The group encountered several obstacles with the pilot. For example, they chose not to tag individual plants, speculating that doing so would be too expensive for participants. In addition, the metal in the trolley created some challenges for reading the RFID tags on the trays, since it interfered with transmissions. Heemskerk says the participants attached the tags at a spot on the tray at which it could not come into contact with the trolley's metal bars.

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