RFID Takes on Container Fraud

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

Tags: Loss Prevention, RFID, Container Tracking

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? 

Automating Order Fulfillment with a New Generation of RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 @ 08:52 AM

Tags: RFID, Manufacturing Automation, Container Tracking

Back to the Future

If you’ve been following our 100 days of RFID campaign from the beginning, you’ve known that one of the reasons we’re doing this is to celebrate 10 years of RFID in conjunction with our upcoming anniversary.  But, today we’re getting in the time machine to celebrate 15 years of RFID.  Come along for the ride as we fire up the flux capacitor!

The year is 1995 and here’s what the RFID technology scene looked like: low frequency, which meant tags couldn’t be read from a great distance; proprietary technology, which meant customers had few options when upgrading; and higher costs, which meant trading off business benefits.

Well before ThingMagic was founded, Würth Oy, a Finland-based supplier of tools, fasteners and other industrial products, pioneered RFID’s use in order fulfillment.  This was a low frequency (LF) system based upon proprietary hardware that automated the picking process along a nearly one mile long conveyer line at its plant in Riihimaki. The point came, however, when Würth no longer could obtain parts for the proprietary hardware powering the system, so it turned to ThingMagic partner Vilant to replace it with one based upon UHF without any downtime to the picking line.

Vilant - Wurth OyThe closed-loop application features 40 stationary ThingMagic Astra readers that interrogate EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags on roughly 1,000 plastic containers. The information collected via RFID is used to direct the conveyor belt system to send the containers to the proper picking stations. The key for Würth and Vilant was to make a slow and planned switchover so as not to incur any downtime, as over 70% of orders are fulfilled using this line, with over 40,000 RFID tracking events per day.

While Vilant successfully met Würth’s goal of moving its order fulfillment system to the next generation of RFID technology, it now can focus on taking advantage of what this generation provides them. In particular, the ease of maintenance and customizability of the system allows Vilant and Würth to innovate faster and easier. In addition, the greater performance of the system allows Würth to collect better data for quantifying how each picking station is used, maximizing the use of each station and eliminating bottlenecks.  Würth also is in position to eliminate paper from its picking process by presenting employees with electronic lists with locations for each item for even greater efficiencies.

Now that you know this company’s story, what RFID change do you think it’ll effect in the next 15 years? Or will it be closer to five years? We’re interested in your comments.

(photo credit: Vilant)

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