It’s not just about tracking and tracing goods through the supply chain anymore. Shippers and carriers alike now envision more “multi-purpose” use for radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, such as tracking containers across different transportation modes, monitoring shipment temperature, even verifying the authenticity of products to protect against counterfeiting.
“One of the more troubling aspects of the increase in intermodal traffic is the lack of real-time information that follows these containers from ocean vessels through port facilities and then onto trucks and trains,” said Charles Raymond, chairman, president & CEO of Charlotte, NC-based container carrier Horizon Lines. “RFID can help solve…this most difficult challenge by providing real-time inland container visibility.”
Horizon is currently pilot-testing an RFID tag developed by Identec Solutions to track container shipments to Alaska via RFID “readers” installed at distribution centers, terminals, and key highway routes, Raymond said. Safeway, the leading grocery retailer in Alaska market, has joined the carrier’s effort by participating in this pilot test.
Horizon is also conducting another pilot test along its Puerto Rico trade route, using RFID tags tracked via global positioning satellites (GPS) and cellular/satellite communication technologies to monitor not only shipment location, but also temperature, humidity and other variables during transit, he noted.
Raymond said roughly eight million containers entered the U.S. intermodal transportation network last year and that number is expected to double by 2015. So not only is RFID a good method for tracking these containers as they move across modes, it can also increase security for those containers as well.
“Visibility is a powerful enabler,” he noted. “Having information on shipments early in the process– who is shipping what to where and why— and then integrating that information into a real-time tracking system will streamline the entire shipping process. Shippers will achieve savings from tighter inventory management. Carriers will obtain better asset management and in-transit control. And the byproduct of that visibility and efficiency, as I've said many times before, is better security.”
Another aspect of that security issue is deterring the transportation and use of counterfeit goods– everything from trucks parts to pharmaceuticals and shoes.
“We are using RFID tags at the item level, tagging bottles [of pills] in groups of 100, not only to act as a tracking and tracing method for our goods but also as a deterrent against fake pharmaceuticals entering our supply chain,” said Aaron Graham, vp-corporate security for Purdue Pharma LP in Stamford, CT.
“Tagging goods this way creates a drug’s ‘pedigree’ or electronic paper trail: we know where the shipment originated and that it’s passed through each transaction point in our supply chain,” he said. “Each EPC [electronic product code] is distinct so if someone tries to slip something into our supply chain, we know which shipment is ours and which isn’t.”