Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

It’s hard to imagine two desperate pieces of material handling equipment coming together to produce such a gifted child. What seems to be happening is that the slender RFID tag and the husky wooden pallet have improved upon what has been a contentious relationship.

Things are looking better for the two entities. Working through some electronic translators, I had a conversation with Jarkko Miettinen in Tampere, Finland. Jarkko is a vice president at Confidex, a company that designs and manufactures RFID tags. The company particularly likes taking on tough challenges, such as tagging metal products. It now offers a solution for tagging wooden pallets.

The wooden pallet is certainly one of the more common carriers of products on planet Earth. It has long been viewed as a prime candidate for carrying RFID tags. The list of reasons why this has not happened is nearly as long as a presidential candidate’s litany of promises. The challenge (or one prime challenge) has been tag placement. CHEP, the international pallet pooling company, has worked around the problem with a durable tag stapled to the middle block of the pallet. This is a good spot to keep the tag safe from lift truck tine abuse. Most pallets, however, are not block style.

Confidex’s approach has been to create a tag that can be installed in a hole bored into the pallet, sort of like what a (Should I say this?) Longhorned Asian Beetle might leave behind.

Known as the Confidex Pino, it is an EPC Generation 2 RFID tag, available with 96-bit EPC memory as well as an additional user memory up to 512 bits. Beyond its use in pallets, the tag has many applications in the wood industry—tagging trees for tracking from seedling to sawmill, for example.

I asked Jarrko how this tag works and how it differs from other tags. “First,” he says, “it was designed to be installed inside of, not outside of, the pallet. Previous approaches have been to staple or mold the tag into the pallet.”

The tag, which looks like a Japanese cabinetmaker’s double-edged saw (If you can’t grasp that image, think of a sawbill fish.), is about eight centimeters long. It’s flexible and comes on a roll, like labels. The tag is loaded into a special installing tool, which resembles a large spike with a slot opening at one end. The tool and tag are tamped into a hole that has been bored in the pallet. The teeth on the edges of the tag prevent it from coming out as the tool is withdrawn.

The rigid, thermopolymer tag is tolerant of moisture and temperature, says Jarkko. “This tag is ‘tuned’ for use in wood material, which is dielectrically different from plastic. And, while it could be used with other materials, there are better tags for things like metal or plastic.”

Along with use in pallets, Jarkko sees potential for this kind of tag in a variety of products, from park benches to wooden framing of houses. Tags can be scanned with portal scanners or devices on lift trucks, making them ideal for checking deliveries of material to a building site, for example, or cartons of soup to the distribution center.

So, while some people have speculated that these things never work, like all relationships, we should give it a chance.

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