The Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition (RPCC) said the US field trial involves shipping produce in thousands of reusable containers with affixed RFID tags being used throughout the supply chain, from the wet and cold conditions of grower fields, to the rugged and repeated handling of distribution centers, and on to retailers.
"Because perishables are shipped under the most demanding conditions, a successful field test with perishables will provide convincing evidence of the feasibility of using RFID technology with reusable transport packaging in a wide range of other industries, including automotive, beverage, pharmaceutical, and others," RPCC stated.
The test mirrors a similar RFID project conducted this year with produce containers in the EU, known as Fresh Chain.
The field test in the US will include the involvement of Tanimura and Antle, Stemilt, Wal-Mart, Frontera, the Kennedy Group, Avery Dennison, Alien, UPM Raflatac, Impinj, IFCO Systems, Georgia-Pacific, and Orbis.
RFID technology is helping to transform logistics by providing a means of tracking and tracing individual products throughout the supply chain. The involvement of Wal-Mart is particularly important as the world's largest retailer is slowly requiring that all of its suppliers switch to the technology by specified dates.
However the technology still suffers from glitches, in the main caused when readers fail to register tagged pallets or boxes due to failures or damage to the tags.
Fred Heptinstall, RPCC's president, said the large scale field trial follws laboratory testing at Michigan State University School of Packaging.
"There has never been an RFID-related field trial of this magnitude in the US with so many key supply chain partners," stated Heptinstall. "The level of cooperation within the industry is truly remarkable. And if the field trial results mirror the data from the laboratory testing, we will prove unequivocally that reusables are the enabler to the cost-effective use of RFID technology."
During the laboratory trial, 230 reusable containers with nine different EPC-compliant, Gen 2 RFID tags were tested at the Michigan State University lab.
A CalPoly scientist also conducted readability tests at a second laboratory and results were verified by third-party advisors.
The project team performed about 160 hours of testing. The containers were subjected to sinusoidal vibration and drop tests on all edges as well as repeated cleaning and handling.
"In addition to proving durability, the data demonstrated that it is possible to get 100 per cent read rates 100 per cent of the time which has never been achieved in the industry before," Heptinstall stated.
The three tags that performed optimally during the testing are currently being used in the field trial, stated Pat Kennedy, RPCC's project leader.
"The information gathered from these studies will help businesses make data-driven decisions about the cost effectiveness and feasibility of incorporating reusable containers into their supply chains from an enhanced track and trace perspective," he stated.
In the field trial that is currently under way, reusable containers with the multi-cycle RFID tags are being used in grower fields in Washington and California where they are being subjected to mud, varying weather conditions, and rough handling in the field.
From there, the containers are shipped to Wal-Mart distribution centers, where the produce is cleaned and the containers and tags are subject to washing, further handling, refrigeration, and storage before being sent to retail stores.
Once the produce is delivered, the containers are collapsed and sent back through the supply chain for further cleaning, handling, and storage.
Each container goes through a minimum of three cycles of use. At the end of each cycle, the RFID tags are tested for viability, then re-encoded for the next cycle.
RPCC expects to complete the six-month field trial in spring 2008.
Once completed RPCC will develop an economic model for integrating RFID tags with reusable transport packaging.
Quality Logistics Management (QLM), an EPCglobal-certified Solutions Provider, will collect and analyze the data, and present an industry white paper with the results.
The RPCC is a non-profit association representing manufacturers, poolers, distributors, and others involved in the reusable transport packaging industry.
In the EU a similar project known as Vers Schakel, or Fresh Chain, also tested RFID with delivering fresh vegetables in the Netherlands.
The project involved the collaboration of a number of key parties such as
Schuitema NV, W. Heemskerk BV, Centraal Bureau Levensmiddelen (CBL), KPN, Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR), Intel, NXP Semiconductors and Capgemini Nederland.
The project achieved read rates close to 100 per cent accuracy, the project reported last month.
"The results for temperature readings were also positive," the project stated. "The system appeared to work excellently. Nevertheless, the logging of the temperature did not appear to provide new information. The RFID warning system for monitoring the length of time outside cold storage worked so well that the temperature loggers proved to be unnecessary."