Fluensee Purchases TrenStar

By Beth Bacheldor

By acquiring TrenStar, the RFID asset-tracking software provider gains inroads into software-as-a-service, as well as the company's RFID-enabled distribution service for beer kegs and other containers.

RFID-based asset-tracking software maker Fluensee has acquired long-time partner and fellow RFID company TrenStar, which specializes in the beverage and brewery industries. The acquisition provides Fluensee with access to TrenStar's software-as-a-service model, customer base, intellectual property and expertise with monitoring and optimizing supply chain processes.

Financial details of the deal—an all-cash transaction—have not been disclosed.

Founded in 2005, in Denver's Tech Center, Fluensee offers asset-tracking and asset-management software that can leverage active and passive RFID, ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, Wi-Fi-based systems, GPS and sensor technologies. The asset-tracking software is designed to monitor returnable and reusable assets, such as pallets, totes, trays, roll cages, display units and rental assets; trucks and trailers in yards; equipment such as tools, parts and works-in-process; and IT assets such as servers, laptops, networking equipment and peripherals.

For instance, Fluensee has developed systems that utilize mobile interrogators located within the trucks that move tagged trailers around the yard. The interrogators read the tags both on the trailer that a truck is moving, and on the other trailers the truck passes as it is driven around the yard, then transmit all of the IDs wirelessly to back-end systems. By correlating the read time with a truck's coordinates from an onboard GPS receiver, the Fluensee software can pinpoint the tagged trailers' yard locations. Fluensee also offers professional services for design and systems implementation.

TrenStar, also located in Denver, had developed an RFID system leveraging passive RFID tags affixed to reusable containers. Its initial—and primary—business has been to track beer kegs as they traversed from breweries to customers (such as pubs) and back again. Central to TrenStar's business is that it offers the RFID-enabled tracking system in an outsourced, software-as-a-service model. TrenStar tags the kegs, supplies them to the breweries as required, delivers them to the pubs, picks them up, weighs and washes them and then returns them to the breweries for refilling.

During shipment of the kegs, the tags are read by delivery truck drivers using handheld interrogators, as well as by fixed interrogators at TrenStar's facilities. Customers can visit TrenStar's extranet site to see exactly where a particular keg is located at any given moment (see TrenStar: RFID With Less Risk). In 2003, Kraft Foods extended TrenStar's contract, calling for the company to upgrade from bar-code tracking to an automated RFID system (see Kraft to Track Containers With RFID).

In 2005, TrenStar inked a deal with Sokymat, a supplier of RFID transponders, for an order of 1.2 million TrenStar-branded tags. For TrenStar's beer keg tracking application, Sokymat developed a special passive transponder containing NXP Semiconductors' Hitag S 2 Kb series IC chip. Both Sokymat and TrenStar developed a customized packaging solution designed to protect the tag's electronic component from the mechanical stress to which it is subjected throughout a keg's lifecycle—particularly during washing and filling operations.

Tim Harvie, Fluensee's president and CEO, says the TrenStar acquisition will offer the software maker a solid base on which to continue its growth as an asset-tracking company. "We had been doing a lot of work with TrenStar since 2002 and 2003," Harvie says. "TrenStar opens up new opportunities for us. Much of our focus had been in managing high-value assets and IT assets. This [acquisition] will allow us to be the dominant factor in delivering RFID-enabled asset management to a number of industries."

There were plenty of similarities between Fluensee and TrenStar, making the integration of the two companies relatively seamless. Their corporate headquarters were only about five minutes apart in the Denver area at the time, though Fluensee has moved into TrenStar's offices since the acquisition. What's more, both firms' technology platforms were based on Java, and their databases utilize very similar technology components.

In fact, Harvie says, the companies' integration will only take about six weeks. "We will be able to overlay TrenStar's business templates on top of our platform," he explains, "and that will allow us to offer more with business-process optimization." Such optimization, Harvie notes, will add to Fluensee's supply chain execution functionality the ability to "not only manage assets, but the flow of assets through the supply chain."

Additionally, the acquisition has enabled Fluensee to gain TrenStar's software-as-a-service model. "TrenStar gives us a rapid entry into the software-as-a-service market," Harvie says. "We are going to get to a point where we are operating a single set of our tracking capabilities on a platform that can be deployed either via a software-as-service or licensing model."

Fluensee also gains TrenStar's intellectual property (IP), including a patent for RFID asset-management process, granted this year, and the company's ability to capture data from multiple points, transmit unique asset identifiers to a data network and then configure that network to provide detailed asset movement data in the form of custom reports. "This is a very broad patent, specifically related to the RFID methods and processes in the management of physical assets," Harvie states. "It is very broad but very powerful, and allows Fluensee to become the benchmark in how to deliver RFID [services] in [a variety of] industries."