RFID for Tracking Your Returnable Transport Items

It’s 10 o’clock — do you know where your returnable transport items are?

Returnable transport items are the unsung heroes of the supply chain. These durable and reusable containers, such as pallets, trays, totes, rolling racks, security containers, and pans, make it possible to move goods efficiently and sustainably. RTIs can be used for large-scale movement, such as shipping items from one site to another, or for smaller-scale movement, such as transporting goods across the warehouse floor or throughout the manufacturing environment.

In most industries, returnable transport items offer considerable benefits over single-use packaging. Despite the heavier initial investment, reusable containers yield lower long-term operating costs because they don’t need to be repurchased every time you need them – they can be used and reused many times over. They can be purpose-built for minimizing transport damage to fragile products, or they can be generic, for accommodating as many different types of products as profitably as possible. And given the role they play as go-betweens for you and your vendors and partners, RTIs can be used to decode the overall efficiency of your supply chain and product flow. For these and many other reasons, companies invest substantially in RTIs every year, making these vessels of transport a major commercial asset.

Do you know the whereabouts of your RTIs? Do you know how many your company should have on hand at any given point in your business cycle? How many do you lose each year? How much money have you spent on replacement RTIs? Which locations throughout your supply chain are worst about leaking these assets — and why? If you can’t answer these questions, then you’re not only losing a lot of money that you’ve already invested, but you’re spending even more on replacement items and are missing out on critical supply chain efficiencies.

RFID For Tracking Returnable Transport Items

RFID makes it possible to track your returnable transport items efficiently and accurately by automating the tracking process, with system logic custom-tailored to fit your use case. Whether you’re tracking racks of parts as they move through a production process, or pallets of finished goods as they’re delivered to your partners, RFID can be configured to meet your needs. To give you an idea of just how RFID could work for you, here are three use cases for employing RFID to track your RTIs.

Tracking RTIs to and from facilities to protect investment in reusable containers

One of our manufacturing clients was looking for a way to track reusable shipping containers as a way to gain insight into their product flow. They send out empty containers to their vendors, who fill them with empty glass jars and send them back to the manufacturing facility to be filled. Each tray costs just a couple of dollars, but our customer was spending more than $50,000 every year on replacement containers.

Using RFID, our solution enables them to track exactly how many containers are in circulation at all times. The company uses our StrategicRFID application to encode RFID tags that are affixed to individual RTIs and associate each container with its specific vendor/destination. In the customer’s staging area, fixed readers keep tabs on which and how many RTIs are on-hand. Another set of fixed readers installed at the facility’s shipping dock doors enables the system to automatically track each individual container as it leaves the company’s facility. And at the company’s receiving dock doors, a third set of readers automatically reads the trays again as they return to the facility — now filled with glass jars, ready for product.

While our customer was primarily focused on a system that would help them control asset loss, the added bonus of this system is that it feeds information directly into the company’s back-end systems. This not only provides them with quantifiable visibility into the efficiency of its various vendor partners, it also gives them real-time data about their jar-dependent production capabilities at any given moment.

Tracking RTIs between multiple manufacturing sites, as well as to and from consumers, to protect investment in RTIs and track movement of product

Another customer, an auto parts manufacturer, needed a tracking system for managing the products they supply to different automakers. They wanted an automated system that would track the movement of their product to and from their facilities and their customers (the automakers), as well as protect their investment in the shipping containers they use to move their products.

We developed a RFID system that handles both. Because the customer manufactures highly specialized parts that are used by many different automakers, we configured our system to enable tagging of individual shipping containers with rewritable RFID tags. On the manufacturing floor, the trays are filled with parts as they roll off the production line and are encoded with specific production lot, date, time, and location details. Fixed RFID readers automatically scan the tags as they move through the facility’s dock doors, recording when the trays leave for which automakers, as well as capturing when they are returned.

As an added bonus, having an accurate and efficient tracking system with this degree of specificity helps provide production history details for identifying system failures and minimizes vulnerability in the event of a product recall.

Using RTI-tracking to track work-in-process

RFID solutions that track RTIs as they come and go from a facility can also be used to track the containers within that facility to track work-in-process. Reusable totes that are tagged with basic, serialized RFID asset IDs, can be filled with just about anything – including non-homogenous items that get assembled and/or used in producing other items.

These totes and containers are kanbans while they remain at the facility – tracking their contents as they move through the production cycle and are placed in temporary storage within a manufacturing facility – but become returnable transport items when they get transported out of the facility. With the system already in place, these containers can be tracked using the same tags.

Time to Get Strategic

It makes no sense to invest in reusable assets only to treat them as disposable ones. Losing visibility of such a critical asset can severely affect your supply chain and significantly increase your logistics costs.

To ensure an efficient, innovative solution for tracking your RTIs, you need a provider who can help you get a system up and running quickly to ensure maximum ROI. As a highly experienced RFID solutions provider, we at Strategic Systems are experts at customizing RFID technology to fit the unique parameters of your business needs and environment.

“We understand the complexity of RFID, specifically with regard to different use cases,” says Strategic President Rick Bissonnette. “We understand the physics, as well as the logistics, involved in different use cases.”

From tagging requirements to reader and antenna selection, we can ensure that your RFID solution delivers the highest read rates possible. And, because we have APIs that enable the data we capture to integrate with SAP, WMSs, and other manufacturing systems, our solutions can work with your existing software.

Ready to learn more about how RFID can help you track your RTIs? Contact us.