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Do you know where your Plastic Pallet has been?

04 Nov 2015

The logistics and distribution sector has experienced dramatic and welcome growth during the past few years. This has caused an exponential expansion in the sale, rental and pooling of plastic pallets. Famously described as the single most important unit in the global economy, the pallet facilitates the efficient and cost-effective storage and transportation of unit loads. Such is its enduring importance that significant commercial and academic resources are dedicated to modifying its design, changing the way in which it is employed and identifying reliable methods for tracking it and its load. The recent development of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags for deployment in the logistics and distribution industry is one of the most important innovations.

What Is RFID?

There are numerous variations in its specific design, but generally it is the wireless manipulation of electromagnetic fields or radio waves to store and transfer various data in order to identify and track tags or labels which are attached to items such as crates, boxes and plastic pallets. In general terms, the system’s simple apparatus will comprise an antenna, a reader and tags. Originally developed for use in military intelligence, it has become less expensive and more reliable and can be used internationally. Accordingly, it now has industrial, commercial, scientific, financial and medical applications. It is also becoming an increasingly popular tool in supply chain management.

What Are the Advantages of RFID?

RFID’s superiority over other tracking systems – notably the barcode – may surprise many market participants. For businesses, perhaps the most important benefits are as follows.

Enhanced efficiency – The tags can be deciphered through such substances as plastic, cardboard and wood and can therefore track objects in transit with an astonishing degree of accuracy and speed. For example, an employee needing to locate the position and contents of some new plastic pallets could do so without those pallets even being in his line of sight. It can equally read multiple tags simultaneously.

Versatility and durability – The tags are placed within or embedded in an object, meaning that it is dramatically less likely to be damaged or have its performance compromised than other tracking devices. It can also be used in inclement weather, areas of extremely high or low temperatures and where the environment is damp or humid, which makes it ideal for both short- and long-haul transportation.

Protecting assets – As well as being aware at all times of the location of a load and being able to take swift action if it goes astray, a company can keep track of the hugely important asset that is its supply of pallets.

Predicting demand and market developments – RFID’s speed and accuracy mean that it can be used to identify trends and demand changes on a more timely basis than through accounting or sales reporting. This can deliver a real competitive advantage for enterprises and, it is is thought, the wider economy, as it is adopted more universally.

Cost-effectiveness – Initial implementation costs are higher than those for, say, a barcode system, but its price continues to fall, and its many efficiencies enable users quickly to profit from their investment.

The technology will be refined and prices will fall even further, so it seems that RFID represents a major boon to logistics and distribution.

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