(Nov. 28) Researchers recently discovered that some multiple use radio frequency identification tags could survive the rigors that numerous trips through the supply chain entail — even when handling different commodities.

These laboratory results were determined during phase one of the Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition’s three-step pilot project, aimed at verifying the value that multitrip RFID tags on reusable plastic containers afford, said David Rodgers, immediate past president of the Washington, D.C.-based RPCC’s board of directors and general manager of the business unit for Fresno, Calif.-based Orbis Container Services, one participant in the test.

The second phase of the study will test the reliability of the tags in fields. The participants:

  • Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, Calif.;

  • Frontera Produce Ltd., Edinburg, Texas;

  • Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.;

  • Orbis; IFCO Systems NA, Houston;

  • Georgia-Pacific Corp., Atlanta; and

  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark.

They plan to ship commodities in RPCs affixed with multicycle RFID tags, from the grower to the produce department, Rodgers said.

“We’re seeing if the tag can withstand multiple trips through the supply chain, and if it can, would the tag be a lower cost to the supply chain,” Rodgers said of the trial, which began Nov. 12 and continues through spring.

The field test uses three different RFID tags, manufactured by Alien Technology, Avery Dennison and UPM Raflatac. They were chosen based on their 100% readability rates through a battery of lab tests at the Michigan State University School of Packaging, said Michael McCartney, principal of Quality Logistics Management Consulting, an RFID solutions provider that is managing RPCC’s pilot program.

The three Electronic Product Code-compliant, Generation 2 tags were chosen from a group of nine, after undergoing shock, vibration, drop and temperature trials, which were designed to simulate the types of abuse products sustain during 100 to 200 transportation cycles, McCartney said.

“I’m really excited because I didn’t think the tags would hold up to the high level of stress and scrutiny that Michigan State applied,” he said. “The focus for the tests was to determine if a single-use RFID tag could be used for multiple trips. RFID tags are designed primarily to go on one-way packaging, and when you look at returnable containers, they might be used thousands of times.

“So the question is, is the tag that was not designed for the job robust enough?” McCartney said.

WAL-MART TESTS PROGRAM

McCartney has high expectations for the field tests that are under way. Thousands of RFID-tagged containers, provided by Orbis, IFCO and Georgia-Pacific, recently began their projected 60-day supply chain trip, at Tanimura & Antle, Stemilt and Frontera, which are growing and packing cauliflower, apples and peppers, respectively Rodgers said.

Those companies were selected for their reputation and solid infrastructure, Rodgers said, and cauliflower, apples and peppers were picked because of the diverse cooling methods they require, helping test the tags’ readability in different climates.

After leaving the fields and packinghouses, the containers will be transported to a Wal-Mart distribution center in Cleburne, Texas, and on to select Wal-Mart Supercenters throughout the state. The tags will be read at every stop to ensure they are capable of enduring transportation hazards and temperature fluctuations, Rodgers said.

From there, the containers will be sent through a reversed logistics process, where the tags will be scanned, washed and read again — to guarantee washing doesn’t affect readability — before being sent back to the lab to evaluate readability levels, Rodgers said.

Barring positive readability, the tag’s cycle will start again, with the hopes of each one going through at least three trips and ideally four or five, Rodgers said.

Once results are collected, Quality Logistics Management expects to analyze the data and develop a report — the final phase of RPCC’s pilot program — which will include an economic model comparing the costs of using multitrip RFID tags to single-use tags, McCartney said.