New uses for RFID in the supply chain

Three roll-outs in Europe illustrate the evolution of RFID in logistics.
July 5, 2007

RFID is finding its niche in the supply chain, but not necessarily in areas like pallets, cases and individual items as originally anticipated. In the June issue of Modern, you read how shippers like Horizon Lines are using RFID to track trailers over the open road between the port and retail distribution centers. Meanwhile, three recent implementations in Europe illustrate the evolution of RFID in the supply chain. “What these deals say is that RFID isn’t just about item-level visibility,” says Andris Berzins, managing director of EMEA for AeroScout, a provider of WiFi-based real-time locating systems.  


Tracking temperature and location

Shipper DHL is working with a major pharmaceutical manufacturer to track temperature-controlled products during shipment. In this application, the manufacturer is liable for ensuring that vaccines remain within a specific temperature range from the factory to the end customer. 

Today, the pharmaceutical manufacturer installs a data logger on a pallet before its loaded onto a truck. At the distribution center, the pallet is placed in quarantine while the data logger is sent to a lab for analyzing, a process that can take up to three days. 

“There’s complexity and cost in administering the solution,” says Berzins. “In addition, inventory is tied up for three days and if something does happen in route, they can’t do anything about it.” 

Soon the pallets will be tagged with an RFID tag and temperature sensor. The tag sends an update to a GPS unit equipped with a GPRS modem on the outside of the truck. If the temperature goes out of range while in transit, an alert is sent to the driver who can take action to make sure the heating or cooling unit is working properly. If nothing goes wrong, the shipment can be released immediately. 


Combining RFID and video tracking

Pfefferkorn Spedition GmbH, a German shipping company, uses video surveillance technology from DIVIS to provide a video recording of warehouse events to its customers in the event of damage or theft.  

“The problem is that it could take several days of reviewing video to find the five or six seconds that show what did or didn’t happen in the facility,” Berzins explains.  

Now, Pfefferkorn Spedition has attached RFID tags to mobile bar code scanners used to scan shipments as they enter, when they are moved into or out of a storage location, and when they exit the facility.  

“We can now track where and when a bar code scanner performed a scan,” says Berzins. “That allows us to tell the system when and where a specific scan occurred in the warehouse, and where to store that footage.” That allows Pfefferkorn to quickly find footage if a problem arises.  


Tracking roll cages

City Link, a U.K.-based parcel shipping company, installed Wi-Fi-based, active RFID tags on 22,000 roll cages that house and protect high-value parcels between a hub and 73 depots located across the United Kingdom.  

“If a depot runs out of roll cages, which often happens during the holidays, they have to palletize their shipments and use a lift truck, which slows down operations,” says Bezins. “Now, they can call up their inventory of cages on a screen and see how many they have available and where they’re located at any given time.” That allows City Link to better deploy the cages across its network.