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Farm Harvests RFID’s Benefits

After deploying an RFID receiving system, Paramount Farms cut its operating costs, improved its relationship with growers and avoided having to invest in expanding its facilities.
By Bob Violino
One of the functions of the receiving system is to weigh the nut-laden trailers as they enter a scale house at the processing plants. Since the tare, or the weight of each empty trailer, is known ahead of time, Paramount calculates the weight of the nuts, or “green weight,” by subtracting the tare from the recorded gross weight.
Readers identify the trucks automatically

Each of the 2,000 trailers used—1,200 leased by Paramount and 800 owned or leased by its partners—is tagged so it can be identified inside the scale house, where Paramount has installed six readers, two readers for each of three scales. The tag is read as the trailer pulls onto a scale to be weighed. To get the maximum read range, Paramount chose to use 915 MHz tags. Both the tags, which are passive, and the readers are made by Intermec Technologies, of Everett, Wash., according to Gregg Maggioli, president of MagTech Systems and project manager for the GRS implementation. Maggioli says the project members looked at a variety of alternatives for identifying the trailers, including bar code systems.

“We decided that RFID was the best choice,” he says, because of its accuracy and potential for slashing the time it took to identify vehicles.

MagTech advised Paramount and its grower partners on how and where to attach the tags on trailers, and tested the system to ensure that the readers would gather accurate data. One challenge that came up, Maggioli says, was figuring out how to mount tags on the metal surface of the trailers. Because metal reflects the ultra-high-frequency radio waves transmitted by the RFID readers and tags—causing interference with the signal—the tags had to be placed on top of a “spacer,” a two-sided piece of industrial tape that provides about 1/8-inch distance from the metal of the trailer to eliminate a potential problem.

Another consideration was the climate. Because the trailers are kept outdoors throughout the year, often in desert locations, they are subject to extreme heat and cold, Maggioli says. “It can be 118 degrees or higher during the day and then cold and raining at night,” he says. “The tags had to be durable.”

The unique identification number of each trailer is read from the tag, which allows for the trailer’s tare weight, license plate number and owner information to be retrieved from the GRS database. This information, along with the grower’s name, the name of the ranch, the location the specific field where the nuts were grown, the method used to harvest the nuts, the trailer’s gross weight (automatically retrieved from the scale house) and the date and time the shipment was received, are all recorded in the GRS database. The automated process speeds data entry and ensures accuracy.

Other steps are taken in the receiving process—including cleaning away any foreign debris such as leaves or branches and testing a sample of the load to determine the pistachios’ grade—before Paramount determines the final weight and pay rate for growers.

Paramount officials decline to disclose the costs of the receiving system or components, but the benefits are clear. Before the company implemented the new RFID system, a Paramount employee would have to manually check a stenciled ID number on the side of each trailer as it entered the scale house and write down the trailer number. Because of human error and occasional fading of the number, these numbers were not always recorded accurately, Anzaldo says. There was also an element of physical hardship because once in a while someone would have to go outside the scale house to be able to read the trailer numbers, Maggioli adds, and face the extreme heat and dusty conditions of the plants’ desert location.

In addition, it would take up to two minutes to collect the data this way, whereas now it’s recorded as soon as the trailer passes the reader. By reducing the amount of paperwork and manual data-entry steps, the new process has slashed the transaction time for initiating a new load by 60 percent.

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