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In Spain, Christmas Baskets Come Packed With RFID

Grupo Disber uses EPC tags and readers to track up to 50,000 gift baskets shipped daily from its warehouse in Valencia.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 16, 2010Christmas is a busy time for a lot of companies. For Grupo Disber, the season is especially demanding. In Spain, the (cesta de navidad) Christmas basket, filled with various foods and alcoholic beverages, is the most popular holiday gift, the company reports. Over the course of a few months, Grupo Disber sells 1.5 million of the baskets to consumers and businesses, making it the nation's leading provider of such items.

To keep a better eye on the Christmas baskets as they are packed onto pallets and shipped—in order to both reduce labor and increase accuracy—the company has installed an RFID system that tracks the baskets as they travel through the firm's 75,000-square-meter (807,000-square-foot) complex of warehouses, located in Valencia. The technology, the company reports, has reduced its staffing costs by 10 percent, as well as eliminated 90 percent of shipping mistakes and resulting customer returns. The system was provided by Tag Ingenieros Consultores (Tag Consulting Engineers), an RFID solutions provider also based in Valencia. "They wanted to increase their company productivity, reduce errors and have a total tracking system," says Javier Muñoz Giner, Tag Ingenieros Consultores' CEO.

Each gift box is sealed with an EPC Gen 2 RFID tag.
The baskets—which are actually cardboard boxes typically measuring approximately 1.3 feet by 3 feet by six inches (though some boxes are twice that size)—can include cognac, brandy, champagne, sausages, chocolates, nuts, cheese and drinking glasses. In anticipation of the Christmas rush, the company employs between 400 and 500 workers for four months, to pack, store and ship the boxes. Grupo Disber assembles and ships up to 1,000 pallets per day, with an average of 50 boxes per pallet, all loaded onto 20 to 25 trucks. Before the RFID solution was deployed, each order's accuracy was manually confirmed by employees, to ensure that no gift basket containing the wrong products was shipped out. Employees simply compared each box visually against the paper order. The sheer volume of boxes being shipped led to errors, however, which could include misplacing goods within the warehouse. What's more, there was no tracking system in place to make sure that each box had been sent to the right customer at the proper time.

After deciding to try an RFID solution, Grupo Disber carried out a test of the system from June to September 2008, in advance of the Christmas season. Once the company determined that the box tags were being accurately read, it installed RFID readers and software from Intermec for the 2008 season. The firm is now in its third season of full-scale deployment. The system includes EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags featuring Thin Propeller antennas and Monza 3 chips from Impinj. After a box is packed and closed, Grupo Disber's staff members attach a pre-encoded adhesive RFID tag over the lid to ensure the box is sealed. If anyone had opened the box, its tag would be torn and become inoperable, thereby serving as an alert that its contents would need to verified. In some cases, the company prints and encodes its own tags using one of the four printers utilized for non-standard or custom products.

Upon receiving an order, Grupo Disber forwards it to the warehouse, where a worker then prints the necessary RFID tags to attach to each gift box in that particular order. When the boxes have been retrieved from warehouse shelves, a tag is applied to each box, and workers read the tags using an Intermec IP30 handheld interrogator, in order to link them with the products being loaded onto a pallet. The unique ID number of each item linked to the order number in the back-end system is sent via a Wi-Fi connection to Tag Ingenieros Consultores' software, residing on Grupo Disber's back-end system, and designed to share data with the company's management system.

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