A major logistics provider in the UK chilled food supply chain needed to improve tracking of their refrigerated trailer fleet and associated service records. This was to ensure all trailers were certified as roadworthy in the event of a DVSA roadside check, thereby avoiding the possibility of a costly fine. Tracking would also mean trailers could be better utilised, reducing new purchases and spot hires at peak periods.
The issue was how to collect the tracking data without affecting the existing processes. Data collection was to be achieved without any additional process delay, without any process change and without any additional manpower.
Codegate was invited to suggest a possible solution using RFID ...
Each trailer depot had a gatehouse and barriers with multiple 'in' and 'out' lanes. In some cases five lanes were available, meaning up to five vehicles could be parked whilst their drivers processed paperwork in the gatehouse. Codegate needed to find a cost effective RFID solution that could read tags on trailers parked within a 30m wide entrance, but would avoid cross reads from nearby trailers parked in the depot.
Passive UHF EPC Gen2 RFID technology was chosen as the most appropriate solution. Passive tags were relatively low in cost, so it was possible to securely fit one on each side of the trailer.
An initial proof of concept trial was set up at one of the largest depots, with antennas positioned on each side of the entrances. Omni-ID Ultra tags were used in order to gain maximum read range, ensuring that each trailer could be read in any of the five lanes, even if trailers were already parked in the other lanes. Each tag had a unique ID. This improved the readability of each trailer to an effective 100% and also meant trailer direction could be determined by comparing relative signal strengths from different antennas.
Following a successful trial a prototype was developed and installed in one of the busiest depots. An RFID reader was installed in the gatehouse, connecting to a Codegate Control Unit (CCU). This contained a single board computer with LAN connection and power conditioning electronics. Special low loss coax cables connected the reader to the RFID antennas, retaining an acceptable read performance at distances in excess of 50m. Collected data was sent to the Cloud from where it could be accessed via a private web portal.
Following a successful three month pilot the system was rolled out by Codegate to all other depots throughout the UK. Remote device management software was loaded onto the CCUs so that each system could be accessed from Codegate's offices for maintenance and software upgrade purposes. Use of CCUs avoided the requirement for an additional high maintenance PC in each gatehouse. In comparison to a PC CCUs are smaller, have only one power connection and one mains switch so are less prone to tampering.
The web portal provided summary details of all trailer 'last seen' locations together with lists of all trailers nearing or overdue a service. These details could also be texted and emailed to responsible managers enabling them to arrange servicing in a timely fashion.
The relatively low capital and installation costs of the solution meant payback was achieved inside 9 months (primarily due to savings in spot hire costs through better utilisation). With no monthly charges for data SIM the system also offered relatively low running costs. The system was completely non-intrusive and required no change to existing processes, so no user training was required.