Image ID Pioneers Unique Packaging Tracking Software
Find out how a Japanese pallet pool uses innovative bar code tracking technology to manage its large pool of wooden pallets.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 10/1/2009
When many think of the latest supply chain tracking technology, radio frequency identification (RFID) comes to mind. But innovative bar code technology from ImageID offers information that simply can’t be tracked using RFID. This unique software is being deployed in Japan to track a large pool of wooden pallets. Could it hold the key to asset tracking in the United States?
Headquartered in Tel-Aviv, Israel, ImageID goes beyond traditional bar code tracking technology. It has pioneered the use of image-based data capture and analysis for asset tracking. Basically, cameras take a picture of a unit load and quickly figure out what is on it as well as how the load is configured. Beyond simply cataloging the contents, the software can detect label errors or unmarked boxes. This unique feature can prevent shipping errors and eliminate claims or returns.
“Our system uses a picture not a scan that can actually identify where the problem is. RFID can’t pinpoint the problem on the pallet. We can detect missing or mislabeled items,” said Rafi Pilosoph, vice president of sales and marketing for ImageID.
RFID can only tell you what is on a pallet. Picture-based analysis can provide even more data than RFID.
Rafi said, “Supermarkets fine vendors if they do not fill pallet order correctly.” But the Visidot SCT (Supply Chain Traceability) solution by ImageID can stop problem loads from ever leaving the warehouse.
RPC Logistics Made Easy
Currently, the software is used by IFCO Systems as the primary tracking system for its global fleet of reusable produce containers (RPCs). Visidot reader gates are deployed at IFCO RPC depots to track inbound and outbound shipments. Data instantaneously decoded from these images enables tracking of internal RPC processing cycles (such as cleaning and storage) and reliable shipping verification backed by visual, image bank archived proof of RPC asset condition.
Data is gathered from local facilities and aggregated to seamlessly integrate with a customer’s Enterprise Resource Planning or other key software system. Traceability records may be viewed and managed in real time through any authorized Web-based station.
Rafi said, “Visidot enables RPC suppliers to maintain complete traceability, while enhancing overall process accuracy and efficiency, and drastically reducing inventory shrinkage, shipping errors and manual labor costs.”
Tracking Wood Pallets in Japan
Keeping up with millions of individual wood pallets may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but it is actively being done in Japan using the Visidot system. The Nippon Pallet Pool (NPP) has deployed the Visidot across its 220 depot locations to manage its over 3 million pallets.
NPP (www.npp-web.co.jp) was founded in 1972 by Nippon Express, the largest Japanese logistics provider, and Japan Freight Railways.
Customers can pick up or return pallets at any of its facilities because the Visidot system ensures accurate stock control.
NPP evaluated several traceability technologies including RFID and concluded that ImageID’s Visidot, a field proven solution for RTI Poolers, is the most practical solution in terms of cost, accuracy and system management. After a pilot program, NPP decided to roll out the process across its entire network.
NPP has done some unique things to optimize each pallet for effective tracking. Remember that the basis of the Visidot system is a bar code. Thus, the readability of the label is critical for success.
NPP ensures read rates by using a QR Code, a Japanese version of data matrix 2-D bar code, which tends to be more reliable than traditional bar codes. Additionally, NPP has put a recessed groove in the wood to store the label. The label is laminated to protect it from the elements or fork tine damage.
“Visidot holds many benefits for the Japanese market” said Mr. Naohiro Okada, president & CEO of EZIS Solutions, ImageID’s partner in Japan, “it met all NPP’s quality and reliability standards.”
With a virtually unlimited field-of-view, Visidot automatically captures hundreds of pallet labels at once, with 100% accuracy. The decoded data is associated with a customer to ensure a full traceability database.
This same approach could be used to track wood pallets in the United States or Europe. It solves some of the major issues with RFID, such as read rates. Moisture in wood and other factors have been known to affect the readability of RFID tags on wood pallets.
Bar code labels tend to cost much less than RFID tags, which may not be any easier to read on a pallet.
Dollars & Cents
The key to any reusable packaging program is asset turns. Tracking technology is a critical tool necessary to reduce shrink and improve management of those assets. In some circumstances, the packaging can cost more than the load itself. A perfect example is bread. The trays can cost more than the asset inside of it.
The Visidot reader can be motion controlled or run by an operator. The human element obviously can add cost. But it may be necessary depending on your specific situation. In any case, the automation of the process can result in substantial savings in manual labor and elimination of costly mistakes.
A key benefit of the Visidot system is the wide variety of reports it can generate including seasonal behavior based on previous performance to help predict changes in seasonal demand. This is critical for a company managing a fleet of containers or pallets.
Rafi said, “The reports our system generates can be a big help to operations management.”
Key Advantages of the Visidot System
The basis for the Visidot system is a new generation of bar code reader. It can read traditional linear or 2D (e.g., DataMatrix) bar codes, or ImageID’s own simple color coded symbology. Like any bar code scanner, line of site is required, a noticeable disadvantage compared to RFID. However, the technology appears to be able to rapidly scan multiple items from long distances as far away as 15 meters with high read rates and accuracy. According to ImageID, its unique approach can achieve data capture beyond the capabilities of RFID at a potentially lower cost.
The really unique aspect of the Visidot system is the software that can interpret the picture, not the imaging device itself. Visidot can intergrate with a number of third party camera devices that actually take the picture. The key lies in the ability of the Visidot software to quickly interpret the image, transform this into data and pinpoint problems.
As depicted in the illustration, a Visidot reader can scan multiple bar codes in parallel. Image ID claims the Visidot system can read a full pallet’s worth of case-level bar codes in as little as one second.
Additionally, bar code orientation is not important for the Visidot reader. This isn’t true for traditional bar code scanners except for the more expensive, limited read range omni-directional scanners. Able to capture hundreds of tags in seconds, the Visidot system is currently being used by IFCO Systems, NPP, SeaChill of the UK, Mix Buffet of France, and Kautex Unipart of the UK.
Ideal Solution for Asset Tracking?
Finding the right solution for asset tracking has been a long road. Packaging poolers have investigated all sorts of technology options. It’s one thing when you are trying to keep track of a high dollar asset. It is another thing when you are trying to make a business case for tracking a $7 pallet or container.
ImageID believes it has the perfect solution to fix the major limitations of both traditional bar code and RFID technology. The Visidot system has been proven effective in tracking RPCs and products on unit loads. Tracing software holds the key to improving asset turns and forecasting, lowering costs related to product shrink and recalls, and supply chain visibility.
Rafi says Visidot can enable companies to achieve the operations benefits of RFID (rapid reads of multiple items) while leveraging existing bar code technology and labels. Going beyond the data capabilities of RFID, Visidot promises to help achieve the holy grail of tracking, the ability to ensure accuracy and even identify unscannable items.
Pallet companies might want to consider this unique solution as industry leaders prepare to develop the pallet management systems of the future.
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