Color Point Uses RFID to Track Assets

RFID helps track expensive metal carts throughout the retail supply chain.

Color Point is a bedding plant greenhouse operation in Paris, Ky., that provides plants to Lowe's, Sam's Club and other retailers throughout Kentucky and four neighboring states. The family-owned company operates a 15-acre greenhouse in addition to a production and shipping facility that occupies approximately 28,000 square feet.

The company grows plants and distributes them via truck to retailers using large metal mobile carts that act as racks for delivery purposes as well as in-store product positioning. Each of the company's more than 6,000 carts is valued at $400 and shipped between seven and nine times per year to retail customers. The challenge was to track each cart accurately as it left Color Point's distribution center and provide real-time visibility throughout the supply chain.

Brad Slattery, Color Point's IT manager, met with a team from the integrated solutions division (ISD) of SATO America to review the requirements and performance concerns of using RFID tags on metal objects (the mobile carts), which historically, has been a challenge for many industries.

The SATO ISD team soon was onsite developing and installing the necessary core components, while a senior-level developer worked with Slattery and his staff to customize SATO's asset tracking software for Color Point's ERP database and shipping applications. The asset tracking system manages Color Point's mobile assets, while enhancing accuracy, efficiency and flexibility in its dock loading operations. The company's RFID network infrastructure includes an RFID portal, RFID thermal printers and RFID labels (tags), all from SATO America, along with RFID readers and antennas provided by Alien Technology and handheld readers from Motorola Inc.

Specialized passive RFID tags were developed and attached to both ends of each mobile cart, while fixed RFID readers were mounted at the dock doors of Color Point's distribution center.

The system reads each labeled cart as it is loaded for shipment. The RFID tags on the metal carts are scanned as they are placed within trucks and shipped out to each retail customer. Upon a cart's return to Color Point's facilities, each cart's tags are interrogated for their unique number, and their return is documented against the customer's account. Each outbound truck has space for more than 40 carts.

The tracking system creates a complete record of missing assets and which customer received them. The system helps Color Point create color-coded plan-o-grams for each vehicle (displayed on monitors at each dock), so the carts are loaded in the order they are to be delivered. This helps ensure customers receive the correct carts and also makes loading and unloading easier. Another benefit of the system is that it enables Color Point to recoup the cost of non-returned carts.

This article is based on material developed by SATO America Inc. Visit the company's Web site at

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