RFID tags designed for single use could be used for multiple trips without any deterioration in performance if positioned correctly on reusable containers, RPA study finds

Graziela Medina Shepnick

Graziela Medina Shepnick

Jul 3, 2009 – The Reusable Packaging Association (RPA)

ARLINGTON, Virginia , July 1, 2009 (press release) – The Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) announced today the findings of the largest and most widely-supported industry field test of RFID technology on reusable containers. The independent study concluded that RFID tags that are designed for single use could be used for multiple trips without any deterioration in performance if positioned correctly on reusable containers.

The groundbreaking study, which included an extensive field trial that lasted over a year, was supported by a broad group of RPA members and industry leaders who collectively represent every facet of the supply chain. The participants included Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Frontera Produce, Stemilt, Tanimura and Antle, Georgia-Pacific, IFCO SYSTEMS N.A.,ORBIS, Alien Technology; Avery Dennison, Impinj, UPM Raflatac, Michigan State University School of Packaging, The Kennedy Group, California State Polytechnic University, QLM Consulting and the RPA.

“The compatibility of RFID technology with reusable containers brings substantial added benefits to the already proven economic and environmental advantages of reusable packaging systems,” stated Pat Kennedy, Vice President of Marketing and Sales for The Kennedy Group, and leader of the RPA project team that sponsored the independent evaluation.

“By combining RFID technology with reusable containers, industries gain the ability to better track their product and their containers as they move through the supply chain,” said Bob Klimko, Chairman of the RPA Board and Director of Marketing for ORBIS Corporation. “This will result in a stronger return on investment on the containers, as well as provide opportunities for improved supply chain management through analysis of the data provided.”

Klimko gave the following reasons why the findings of the groundbreaking study will significantly further the adoption of reusable packaging systems:

1. Cost Effective Tracking: Reusable packaging provides many benefits to the user and the environment. However, it also poses some challenges such as managing and locating the reusable assets. Since reusable assets require a substantial upfront investment they must be utilized to their fullest to obtain the optimum return on that investment. The successful application of RFID technology as demonstrated by the study provides a means to cost-effectively track and trace reusable assets.

2. Enhanced Supply Chain Visibility: In addition to containers, the goods being transported can be identified and tracked more closely with the technology.

3. Accelerated Return on Investment: Reusable containers and RFID tags have been proven to be effective for multiple trips. Their reusability provides an even greater ROI, thus bringing greater value to the users.

4. Minimized Product Loss/Damage: For produce and other industries with time-sensitive shipments, adoption of reusable packaging with RFID track and trace facilitates analysis of the supply chain to reduce and minimize product loss due to shelf life expiration.

5. Reduced Labor Costs: The elimination of many laborious steps involved in one-way tag applications demonstrates another significant economic advantage for reusable systems in comparison to one-way packaging choices.

The study consisted of two phases of laboratory testing during which 230 reusable containers with nine different EPC-compliant, Gen 2 RFID tags were vigorously tested at Michigan State University School of Packaging. A California State Polytechnic scientist at a second laboratory conducted readability tests and third-party advisors verified results. The project team performed more than 160 hours of testing and more than 14,000 tests. The three tags that performed optimally during the testing were used in Phase 3, the field trial.

During the field trial, produce was packed in reusable plastic containers (RPCs) directly in the field under many different field conditions. The produce was then sent to cooling facilities where product temperatures were dropped to an optimum level to ensure freshness and transportability. Following the cooling operation, the product was loaded on trucks and other containers for shipment to end user customers.

During field testing, the RFID tags underwent extreme changes in temperature from over a 100° Fahrenheit (F) in the field to 32°F in cold storage and over 170°F in the sanitation cycle. Additionally, the RFID tags were exposed to dry field conditions, wet and cold storage environments, warehousing, store racking and hand deliveries to the store shelves. Each of the RFID tags used during field testing were subjected to an average of more than 1,000 miles transportation distance, before being unloaded at a distribution center, then reloaded onto local trucks for delivery to the stores, redelivered back for sanitation, and finally redeployed to the produce company for reuse.

“This study represents the value-added approach of the Reusable Packaging Association,” said Jerry Welcome, President, RPA. “We undertake projects that deliver truly impactful results in support of the adoption of reusable packaging solutions for their environmental, safety and economic benefits. And the participation of such a large group of diverse industries demonstrates the breadth and commitment of our membership to our mission. We thank everyone for their participation in this ground-breaking study.”

The complete report is available to members of the RPA.

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