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Mars, Rewe, Deutsche Post and Lufthansa Cargo Work on SmaRTI

The German project's participants, which also include the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics and CHEP Deutschland, are designing smart reusable transport items that can guide themselves through the supply chain.
By Rhea Wessel
Dec 28, 2010The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML), a state- and private-funded research institute in Dortmund, Germany, is working with Rewe-Informations-Systeme (the IT arm of German food retailer Rewe), Mars Deutschland (the German division of food manufacturer Mars) and CHEP Deutschland (the German division of global pallet-pool service provider CHEP) to develop a system that will move goods through supply chains in an automated fashion, with higher data transparency and fewer failures.

Through what the partners call the smaRTI project, the group seeks to drastically simplify the implementation of smart reusable transport items (RTIs), says Björn Anderseck, Fraunhofer IML's project manager for smaRTI, by creating standard transponders for three different types of shipment carriers, as well as a standard IT architecture and services that can be used throughout entire supply chains. In so doing, he indicates, they will pave the way for the implementation of self-guided logistics systems.

Anderseck Björn, Fraunhofer IML's project manager for smaRTI
The hope, Anderseck says, is that the system will save time and money for supply chain participants through better automation of the flow of goods, and by enabling services such as real-time tracking to make supply chains more transparent and flexible, as well as less error-prone. The tagging of carriers will also help carrier owners better manage their inventories worldwide.

"Every supply chain partner," Anderseck explains, "would know the exact location of the goods, in which process step they are, and if the goods are in the front store or in the back room."

As part of smaRTI, the researchers and their partners are designing hardware and software for carriers used by three large German companies in three separate industries. These consist of pallets utilized by Rewe to transports goods sold in its stores, containers for transporting letters within Deutsche Post's German network and energy-efficient, intelligent air-freight pallets for Lufthansa Cargo.

All three carrier types will employ RFID tags and readers for identification, as well as other forms of automatic-identification technologies, such as bar codes or GPS, for example. The project members are currently working to define which tags and interrogators will be used on which carriers.

In each case, carriers will be self-guided through the supply chain, since data pertaining to each carrier will be stored on the RFID chip itself, instead of in a central database. The information saved on the chips will indicate such things as where a particular carrier is headed, to whom it belongs and what it is carrying.

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