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California Freight Yard Tracks Trailers Via RFID

DSC Logistics uses RFID readers on its yard truck, and at its gate, to monitor where each trailer is located, and then shares that data with customers and freight carriers.
By Claire Swedberg
For trailers new to the yard, the gate guard inputs data about each arriving trailer, such as its serial number and owner, and then reads a new tag on a Motorola desktop interrogator that links the RFID tag's unique ID number with the trailer data. The tag, which has a magnetic backing, is temporarily attached to the front of the trailer, on the driver's side. The driver then takes the trailer to its assigned spot within the yard. Once the trailer leaves the yard, the temporary tag is removed.

According to Granato, the yard is equipped with a transport vehicle known as the "yard goat," on which a single Motorola XR450 RFID reader is installed—with a pair of antennas affixed to one side and to the back of the driver's cab—as well as a GPS unit and a cellular radio. (The device can also transmit data via Wi-Fi, though it is not presently being used in that manner at DSC Logistics' facility). When the truck is not carrying a load, the XR450 interrogator continually reads an RFID tag permanently installed on the back of the vehicle, near the rear antenna, and the cellular radio forwards that ID number to the back-end software, along with the vehicle's GPS location. As the yard goat passes among trailers throughout the yard, the antennas on the side of the truck capture the ID numbers of other trailers' tags. The GPS unit's data—including the truck's location, direction and speed—and the ID numbers are then sent to the back-end software, which updates each trailer's location. In this way, if a trailer has been deposited in the yard and its specific location is not yet known, the system can receive data from the yard goat's on-board reader device, and the software can instantly update the trailer's exact location.

DSC Logistics' yard goat has RFID reader antennas installed on the side and back of the driver's cab.

When the yard goat hooks up to a trailer, its own tag is covered, and the reader can no longer read the ID number, thereby indicating that the yard goat has picked up a load. The XR450 reader then interrogates the trailer tag, and the cellular radio forwards the trailer tag's ID, along with the location information. Once the yard goat's driver finishes dropping off a trailer somewhere within the yard, or at a dock door, the software updates the system with the latest location data. When the trailer is later shipped out of the yard, it passes the gate reader once more, which captures the tag ID and sends that information to the software, where the shipment status is changed to shipped.

At the California location, O'Reilly says, the PINC system has enabled the company to achieve savings by increasing the yard-goat drivers' productivity, reducing average travel distance within the yard, streamlining communication between drivers and the shipping office, and eliminating the manual yard-check process. Another benefit, he adds, is the ability to share data with freight carriers and customers, which need simply log into the DSC Logistics' PINC Web site, enter a password, access a dashboard displaying each trailer's status (such as received, unloaded or shipped) and view its location as an icon on a yard map. The system can send notifications to customers, either via an update on their dashboard as they sign in, or via an e-mail indicating when a specific action has occurred, such as a change in a trailer's load status. In addition, operators can utilize the system to resolve detention claims from their carriers—in the event that a shipment is late, for example—since the data indicates the trailer's exact location, when it was at that site and for how long.

Based on the solution's success to date, O'Reilly says, DSC Logistics is currently preparing to deploy the technology at two other sites—one in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia—during the first quarter of this year.

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