RFID Takes on Container Fraud

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Aug 06, 2010 @ 11:10 AM

Horticulture Partnership Takes a Giant Step for its Industry 

When you think of counterfeiting, it's things like $100 bills, documents, watches and signatures that usually come to mind. But would you ever think of containers? Somehow that doesn’t seem like it would attract the black market. But where there is easy money to be had, even containers don’t go unnoticed. And the window of time in which they can be intercepted is quite big. Often times they must go through customs and pass inspection at various sites on overseas trips and it’s at those spots that the containers are stolen, identification tags are falsified and they are lost in the system forever.

Previous tracking and identification methods proved fruitless

Counterfeiters aren’t the only ones to blame for missing containers. Needless to say, it’s no easy task to monitor containers on long journeys. Aside from being stolen, they are often misplaced or damaged. Container Centralen (CC), the most widespread returnable transport item (RTI) pooling system in the European flower and pot plant industry, has 3.5 million containers and 25 million Freshboxes, as well as many other RTIs like trolleys in circulation around the world. It and other horticulture companies would authenticate the carts visually with specific padlocks, metal plates with serial numbers and bar-coded labels. But dirt and the environment made the bar codes illegible and the counterfeiters could easily duplicate the visual identifiers. CC was replacing about 150,000 trolleys a year that were missing or stolen. It was time to put a stop to it.

The horticulture industry takes action

CC CartCC formed a partnership with other organizations to launch a project called ‘Operation Chip It’ that would implement RFID to address container loss and improve its overall efficiency. Because this was deemed a very large and important project (a $16.6 million project to be exact) CC enlisted IBM to design the hardware and Confidex to custom design the tags. Handheld RFID scanners suitable for different types of CC container users have also been certified for the project, including several from PANMOBIL and Nordic ID that include ThingMagic embedded RFID modules

So how does the system address counterfeiting?  Containers with falsified identification tags will not be accepted into the CC Pool System.  If a user returns a container with fake tags at a CC depot, a failed reading will result and it will be refused at the door – period.  Being able to read the RFID tags guarantees Container Centralen and its customer against receiving counterfeit CC Containers. 

Since its inception in 1976, CC has regularly replaced the identification tags on its containers.  This latest tagging project is the fifth for CC and the first one using RFID.  Imagine the cost savings for both CC and its users if counterfeit containers are squeezed out of the system and no longer need to be replaced!

Aside from thwarting counterfeiters, the RFID application yields additional benefits. Since the container is often used as a display unit in stores, the flowers and plants can be tracked from the grower to the consumer, eliminating the need for product handling in between. As a result, the risk of damaged goods goes way down and overall distribution costs also decrease.

And the project continues. The partnership will take the RFID initiative to the next phase once the first tagging phase is complete. Next, the horticulture industry will use RFID to track and trace processes, automate ordering and decrease paperwork. It probably won’t be long before the millions of dollars invested in the RFID project will be paid back with dividends.

Given the large scale of the project, CC is taking significant steps to educate its customers on the value of implementing RFID. CC has established an Operation Chip It web site, they are hosting webinars and training sessions, distributing program brochures and posters, and have even established dedicated web stores with its partners to simplify the purchase of certified scanner hardware.

What other industries are susceptible to fraud, loss and damage that should consider using RFID? 

Tags: Loss Prevention, RFID, Container Tracking

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