Pallets to the rescue: RFID eases HOS impact

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 17, 2004) — The trucking industry has long said it needs the help of the shipping community to alleviate long waits at docks that make it impossible for many drivers to scrupulously follow U.S, hours of service regulations. Help may be on the way from an unlikely source: the lowly pallet.

CHEP — an international pallet pooling service used by the world’s largest shippers throughout 38 countries — is taking pallets high-tech with Radio Frequency Identification — known as RFID.

RFID tags consists of tiny computer chips and antennae and are placed on pallets for customers using CHEP’s new PLUS ID service. At the shipper’s warehouse, RFID-tagged goods are placed on pallets, scanned, and entered into a central database via the Internet. As the pallets travels from the shipper’s to the receiver’s facility, the goods are tracked as the RFID tag will be read by special scanners at each location. Rather than scanning each item on the pallet, goods are identified as the forklift carriers the pallet through the dock door.

The company expects that RFID will enable automated receiving, which has the potential for enormous savings by reducing the time trucks have to sit at loading loads

CHEP has spent the last six years developing the technology, including a yearlong pilot of 250,000 pallets in Florida. The company says it experimented with various types of tags and placement locations in order to find a spot that could be identified 100 per cent of the time without being damaged by forklifts.

The question remains, however, how do you get shippers and receivers to invest in the technology? Enter the world’s largest retailer. Wal-Mart announced last November that is has directed its top 100 suppliers to begin using RFID tags on all pallets and case loads shipped to its distribution centres by January 2005. All of the company’s 10,000 suppliers will be required to use the technology by 2006.

Other major retailers are watching closely. In the U.S., Home Depot and Lowe’s home improvement centres are testing the technology, while department stores like J.C. Penny and Sears are waiting to see how things go with Wal-Mart first. Even the U.S. Department of Defense is getting in the act, and has announced it too will require suppliers to use the tags.

— from Heavy Duty Trucking

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