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Axios MA Launches Tagged Pallets and Real-Time Tracking Solution

JD Smith & Sons is the first to test the new RFID-enabled plastic pallets and system, which is designed to let customers not only better track shipments of goods, but also reduce their carbon footprint.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 22, 2010Toronto third-party logistics firm JD Smith & Sons is installing RFID hardware and software that will enable it to track new lightweight plastic pallets equipped with EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags. The system, which also includes GPS and cellular communication technologies, is being provided by Axios Mobile Assets (Axios MA), an Ontario startup software and pallet provider. The goal is to determine whether the system can help JD Smith and its customers better track pallets and the goods loaded onto them, as well as reduce the company's carbon impact by tracking the trucks transporting those pallets, and thereby gain an understanding as to the number of miles each pallet and its goods have traveled. That information will then be matched with fuel-consumption data. The pilot is slated to go live this month, with shipments to one unnamed customer.

JD Smith & Sons, which trucks consumer goods throughout the eastern Ontario area, is installing the system at its distribution center in the Toronto area, in order to track loaded pallets leaving its facility, as well as the empty pallets that return for reuse. "We're hoping to further automate our processes, removing manual and error-prone tasks," says Scott Smith, JD Smith & Sons' president. That means shipment data—which up to now has been manually checked and then input into the system by hand or via bar-code scans—will now be managed by Axios Mobile software, based on reads of RFID tags on the loaded pallets.

Scott Smith, JD Smith & Sons' president
This pilot is the first deployment of the Axios MA solution. The company was formed approximately 18 months ago, to develop a reusable pallet that could be tracked with RFID, according to Richard MacDonald, its president and CEO. The result is a soy bio-resin pallet weighing about 47 pounds, with a passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag embedded in each of its four corners during the manufacturing process. The use of four tags provides sufficient redundancy to ensure a tag read from any angle, says John Psihos, Axios MA's VP of information technology. The pallet is designed to be able to sustain trips loaded with product for 10 to 12 years, and the RFID tags are expected to last for the duration of the pallet's lifetime. The system is just now becoming available commercially, Psihos says, and Axios MA is beginning that commercial launch with the JD Smith pilot. The logistics company will employ between 50 and 100 pallets loaded with product belonging to the unnamed customer.

Each of the four Invengo RFID tags embedded into a pallet has its own unique ID number. Those four IDs are linked together in the Axios Mobile software, to indicate they belong on the same pallet. When a pallet is loaded with products, a warehouse employee utilizes a handheld interrogator to read the ID number on one of the pallet's tags, and then enters the shipment ID number into the device. That process links the pallet with the order number, as well as the products loaded on that pallet.

When the pallets are loaded into trucks, they first pass through an RFID portal installed at the dock doors, in order to capture the ID numbers on any or all of the four tags on each pallet. The Axios Mobile software, which is being integrated into JD Smith & Sons' warehouse-management system (WMS), interprets data from the portal's RFID reader—provided by Impinj—and links the ID numbers on the pallet tags with the order number and specific products that are loaded onto those pallets. In that way, the software provides JD Smith & Sons with updates regarding the date and time a pallet is loaded with product, placed in a vehicle and returned empty. This information can then be shared with the WMS, thereby allowing JD Smith & Sons to automatically send advance shipping notices and issue a bill. The software can also be used to issue alerts if, for example, a loaded pallet is being moved onto the wrong truck.

As part of the Axios MA pilot, JD Smith & Sons will install a GPS device onto each trailer's exterior, to track the location of the company's trucks. The device includes a 3G cellular transmitter, so that it can transmit its latitude and longitude measurements at regular intervals via the Axios Mobile software—where the ID number of the GPS unit is linked to the tag ID numbers of the loaded pallets within the trailer (and, therefore, the order numbers associated with those pallets). JD Smith's management can then track not only where the order is located in real time, but also how quickly it gets there, and the route by which it travels. The business analytics use of this system is intended to help the company reduce its carbon footprint, by analyzing only where its trucks go, and when they are driving an excessive number of miles for a specific delivery, such as picking up a series of orders in an inefficient manner, resulting in extra driving that could have been preventable. JD Smith & Sons will observe the carbon-management function as part of the pilot, and will determine whether it benefits customers.

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