In Finland, Your (RFID) Chip’s in the Mail

Itella, which operates the postal system in Finland, is implementing passive RFID readers at its 11 postal distribution systems to track, time, and analyze the flow of 7,000 to 8,000 sample pieces of mail with embedded RFID tags that will be placed into the system monthly.
Published: May 27, 2008

This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 27, 2008—Finland’s postal operator will soon begin mailing 7,000 to 8,000 envelopes a month with passive RFID tags inside to trace the flow of mail through the system. Itella, a private company that operates the Finnish postal system, has completed installation of RFID readers at three Finnish distribution centers and plans to have all 11 DCs in the network equipped by the end of September.

“This will be an ongoing effort. The RFID system is a performance measurement tool that Itella will use to locate and track the delivery of postal items,” Bill Allen of Sirit told RFID Update. Sirit’s INfinity 510 Gen2 RFID readers were selected for the system. A total of 24 readers, each supporting four antennas, will be installed at the 11 distribution centers.

The readers will identify pieces of mail that have RFID tags inside. The trace mail will not be identifiable to postal workers. Itella will use the read data to measure velocity of mail through the system, analyze flow, and to measure its performance against benchmark levels of service.

Allen said the application is technically challenging because handling systems can operate at high speeds, and item orientation is inconsistent. Itella previously used active RFID technology to track mail. The passive system is less expensive to operate, in part because tag costs are significantly lower.

“One of the key areas that was of most interest to Itella was the ability to read an individual piece of mail buried deep within a tote,” said Allen. “They did quite a lot of testing of different tags, readers, and tag placement orientations before making their decision.”

Itella has also applied passive RFID tags to 650,000 reusable totes used to move mail, and may tag more, according to Kari Hanninen of Finn-ID, which is the system integrator for the project. There are no current plans for widespread use of RFID to track individual pieces of general mail.

Postal operators worldwide have used RFID for a variety of operations, from track-and-trace operations like Itella’s to reusable container tracking and other asset management. In ten years postal operators will buy $2.5 billion worth of RFID equipment and services and tag ten trillion items annually, international market research firm IDTechEx predicted in a recent report.

See Sirit’s announcement of the Itella deployment.