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RFID Cooks Up Tray Visibility for Chicago Bakery
Alpha Baking Co. is identifying the routes on which reusable trays are delayed or lost, enabling it to take corrective actions that ultimately result in significant cost savings.
Oct 19, 2011—Alpha Baking Co. has begun employing passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to track the shipping and return of some of the trays in which its bakery products are transported, thereby affording it visibility into how long it takes for the trays to pass through its depots and routes to customers, as well as when particular trays do not return. By using RFID technology, the company is able to identify on which routes trays end up missing, and thus take corrective actions in order to ensure that the trays return in a timely manner. Alpha's reusable-tray provider, Orbis, is providing the baking company with trays fitted with passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 labels, provided by The Kennedy Group, which also supplied Alpha with RFID readers, ePReusable software and integration and installation services. The solution was first deployed as a pilot in January of this year, and was trialed for approximately nine months before Alpha opted to make the installation permanent.
Without an RFID system, a company has little visibility into where trays are located, or which customers have them, and thus can not ensure that the trays are returned, says Bob McGuire, Alpha Baking Co.'s VP and director of logistics, as well as the chairman of the American Bakers Association's Fleet and Distribution Committee. Although each tray is valued at only about $5, the company utilizes more than 350,000 trays, so the cost of replacing large number of lost trays can be significant. What's more, the company incurs a high number of associated expenses when it lacks a sufficient amount of trays at specific locations and times.
The solution consists of RFID readers installed at portals through which loaded trays on pallets are rolled on their way to a truck. Two UHF Gen 2 passive RFID tags are attached to each plastic tray, according to Patrick Kennedy, The Kennedy Group's VP of marketing and sales; to date, approximately 10 percent of the company's trays have been tagged. Now that the pilot is complete, says Bob Klimko, Orbis' director of retail supply chain marketing, the baking company intends to continue tagging all of its new trays, with the goal of achieving 100 percent RFID coverage of the trays once all old, non-tagged trays have been replaced due to wear or loss.
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