TNT rolls out RFID along supply chain

Delivery provider TNT Express is expanding its multimillion-pound RFID programme in trials to optimise global supply chains.

Delivery provider TNT Express is expanding its multimillion-pound RFID programme in trials to optimise global supply chains.

The first pilot involves a PC manufacturer, which has been tagging a single product line at key points in its supply chain from China to Europe. The first phase began at the start of 2005 and finished during the third quarter. It is now being scaled up.

"Half a billion items were read during the nine months of the trial," said Onno Boots, director of global account management at TNT Express.

The first phase of the trial showed how RFID could create efficiencies across the supply chain, from the equipment manufacturer in China to delivery in Europe. Tracking items at this level, Boots said, allowed TNT Express to provide its customer with information on individual items in a shipment. Its mainstream track and trace system can only provide information on a single shipment that can contain 10,000 or more items.

The pilot used technology called Trax from RFID supply chain specialist Xterprise and a software "bridge" to feed information to TNT Express' systems.

"The Xterprise software captures all RFID data and passes it through to our enterprise systems," said Boots.

Boots is now embarking on the next phase of the project, which will see item-level tracking through RFID extend to multiple product lines.

This involves the deployment of an enhanced Trax 2.0 application, which provides system integration with SAP and other enterprise packages. This phase is expected to enable streamlining and improve the accuracy of sorting at TNT's facilities in Europe.

All sites in the supply chain - the original equipment manufacturer in China, TNT's gateway in China, the European TNT gateway and the German wholesaler - were equipped with RFID hardware, including readers, a PC and software to link back to TNT.

Along with Xterprise, the project is using Zebra RFID printers and Alien Technology UHF-based RFID tags. Xterprise's Trax RFID visibility application is built on Flexnet, an adaptive manufacturing system from Apriso, designed to support process con- trols and regulatory compliance.

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