IGPS Rolls Out RFID-Enabled Plastic Pallets

Embedded with EPC Gen 2 tags, Intelligent Global Pooling Systems' pool of pallets can be tracked throughout the supply chain. Sensors connected to tags can indicate if products suffered damage in transit.
Published: August 24, 2006

Six months after being established by former members of the wooden pallet-pool industry, Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (IGPS) will roll out its first plastic pallets in September, all of which will be RFID-enabled. The Orlando, Fla., startup will then rent the pool of pallets to it customers.

Pallet pools allow manufacturers, distributors and retailers to use pallets on a rental basis, and then return them to the pool provider for inspection and reuse. Typically made of wood, most pallets lack RFID tags and are therefore traced with manual counts; some are occasionally lost in the process. The passive UHF EPC Gen 2 RFID tags will be embedded in IGPS’ pallets during manufacturing. This will ensure the pallets can be traced through the supply chain from product factories to distribution centers and on to retail stores. It will also protect pallets from being lost, according to IGPS CEO Bob Moore. Plastic pallets cost about $50 apiece, Moore points out—2.5 times the price of wooden pallets.

Rex Lowe

According to Moore, RFID tracking allows supply-chain visibility as pallets of a customer’s products move toward the retail shelf. In addition, the tags can be connected to a temperature or shock sensor bolted to the pallet, allowing distributors the security of knowing their product was damaged in transit. In addition, Moore says, RFID tracking enables manufacturers such as pharmaceutical companies to accomplish recalls of a product while it is still in transit, by using the pallet’s RFID number to track where it is in the supply chain.

IGPS has ordered 6 million pallets, some of which will be available in September. Each will be encoded with a 915 MHz passive RFID tag, according to the Global Returnable Asset Identifier (GRAI) protocol. Formed in 2005 and comprised of global retailers, manufacturers and pallet-pool providers, the EPCglobal US Returnable Transport Items business action group, of which IGPS is a member, has recommended adoption of this protocol.

IGPS is rolling out its first RFID-enabled plastic pallets in September.

EPCglobal is expected to ratify the GRAI protocol in September, according to EPCglobal US spokesperson Jeff Oddo. For the past nine months, he explains, the group’s members have been in the requirements-gathering process. “They’ll begin working with other business-action groups on its adoption,” Oddo says, “moving to a broader range of business-action groups to build a consensus.”
RFID systems integrator Xterprise is providing the RFID tags. These tags will be encoded with the GRAI serial number as the pallet passes down the conveyor belt at the factory where it is manufactured, says Dean Frew, Xterprise’s president and CEO. This week, IGPS announced it had entered into an agreement with Netherlands-based Schoeller Arca Systems to manufacture several million pallets for the company.

Xterprise is also providing its XARM software to sequence, create and encode unique serial numbers for each pallet’s RFID tag during the pallet-manufacturing process. Moreover, the firm is providing its Track Asset Management software to manage RFID readers used at the factory. Xterprise’s Analytix software will gather information from the tag data read by interrogators installed at IGPS’s facilities in the United States. In this manner, IGPS will be able to track which pallets it has in inventory, automatically recording those pallets it ships and those that are returned.

Bob Moore

Xterprise will work with IGPS and logistics systems provider Ryder System to provide the necessary RFID reader hardware, software and logistics services to IGPS customers if they wish to use the RFID capabilities of the plastic pallets.

“We’re going to provide a custom solution for all our customers,” says IGPS president Rex Lowe. “Once a customer says they want to move forward [with RFID technology], we will work with both Xterprise and Ryder to make that happen.”

Lowe points out that many customers are already using RFID technology at some level for tracing tagged cases in the supply chain. Frew says the IGPS pallet system can integrate with a company’s existing RFID and warehouse-management systems.