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U.S. Berry Company Implements RFID to Help Stem Potential Losses

The firm is deploying an Intelleflex RFID system after piloting the technology at a packing plant in Mexico, as well as at distribution centers in the United States.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 30, 2011Following a six-week pilot of RFID temperature sensor tags to track blackberries from Mexican farms through its packing plant in Los Reyes, Mexico, and on to its U.S. distribution centers, an American berry company is now deploying the solution throughout all of its facilities. That deployment, provided by Santa Clara, Ca., visibility solutions company Intelleflex, uses software from Proware Services (a division of Florida-based RFID technology firm Franwell). Intelleflex reports that it will now equip all of the berry company's four Mexican packinghouses and three U.S. DCs with RFID technology, and provide temperature-tracking tags to more than 1,000 growers. This rollout is expected to be completed by the end of 2011.

The berry company, which has declined to be interviewed or named for this article, conducted a six-week pilot this past spring, in an effort to improve the quality of product arriving at stores, as well as reduce shrinkage resulting from fruit spoilage. The pilot, conducted on blackberries only (though the full deployment will include multiple berry varieties), allowed the company to track the temperatures within berry-filled containers loaded on pallets from the time the fruit was harvested until it was delivered to the DCs. Based on the results, says Peter Mehring, Intelleflex's CEO, the firm could expect to realize a return on investment within one harvest season (which typically lasts six months). The money-saving benefits include enabling staff members to know when berry temperatures have risen too high, and either to address those high temperatures in real time (such as in the precooling room—a forced-air refrigeration system—at the packing facility), or to route crates according to the temperatures to which the fruit had been exposed and, consequently, according to its remaining shelf life. In so doing, the berry grower will be able to reduce the likelihood that it would need to discard fruit before it could be sold or distributed.

The system used by the berry company included specially modified Motorola MC9090-G handheld readers, Intelleflex TMT 8500 temperature sensor RFID tags and a portable printer for generating adhesive labels.

The pilot was divided into two closed loops, during which RFID tags were used to track berry temperatures. During the first loop—known as the grower loop—an RFID sensor tag was placed on one or more cartons loaded onto each pallet in the field during harvest, and through the quality-control testing performed at the company's packinghouse. For the second distribution loop, an RFID sensor tag was placed in at least one carton loaded onto a repacked pallet, in order to track the temperatures during the cooling and cold-storage stages, and as the carton travels by truck to a U.S. distribution center. During the pilot, berry temperature data culled during the first loop was not linked to the information collected during the second loop. In the future, however, the two sets of data could be linked, so that the fruit company would be able to track a product's temperature history from farm to store.

Intelleflex's battery-assisted passive (BAP) ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags support the ISO 18000-6:2010 Class 3 standard for BAP RFID tags, as well as the EPC Gen 2 standard for passive UHF RFID. Each tag's built-in temperature sensor measures temperatures at preset intervals. When interrogated by an RFID reader, the tag transmits the temperature data, along with its own unique ID number. With its battery-power boost, Mehring says, the tag can be read from within a box of berries, toward the center of a packed pallet—something often impossible using a passive UHF tag. The data is being stored on FreshAware Windows-based RFID software provided by ProWare Services. Intelleflex installed a combination of its own fixed interrogators and Motorola Solutions MC9090-G handheld readers, modified by Intelleflex to read its BAP tags.

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