Tosca has tagged more than 1.5 million plastic pallets and high-value assets that transport goods to factories and stores, providing a view into all steps of each asset’s transportation and service cycles.
April 10, 2023
Learn more about Tosca’s RFID deployment at RFID Journal LIVE! 2023, which will feature end-user companies discussing the technology’s use in various industries, as well as exhibitors offering tagging solutions for multiple applications. To learn more, visit the event’s website.
Reusable packaging company Tosca has tagged its returnable transport items (RTIs), such as pallets that belong to a German retailer it serves, and is tracking them to help that customer understand the movement and status of its plastic pallets as they undergo transportation, maintenance, cleaning and other processes. With the solution in place, Tosca automatically identifies each pallet’s status as it flows through shipping, receiving and servicing, using a UHF RFID solution provided by Mojix and Coriel.
Tosca will present its experience and successes with RFID at this year’s RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition, to be held in May in Orlando, Fla. The company is building passive UHF RFID tags into its own high-value assets so it can track them through each cycle, according to Raf Fonteyn, Tosca’s technology director. The solution leverages handheld RFID readers from Nordic ID, along with fixed readers from Kathrein Solutions. This RFID project is unique, Fonteyn says, by virtue of its large scale, with millions of pallets and containers for fruits and vegetables sent to 15 EMEA service centers, each of which undergoes at least five cycles annually.
The first 1.5 million assets to be tagged belong to the German retailer, which has asked to remain unnamed. However, Fonteyn says, the majority of Tosca’s assets are owned by the company and are pooled or rented to customers. The German retailer is already gaining asset-management data from the RFID tag reads as its pallets flow through five steps at Tosca’s facilities related to the shipping and management of its plastic containers. Tosca has a longer-term plan to track its own products as they are serviced, then are sent to customers and returned.
The company delivers plastic load carriers to businesses in such industries as pharmaceuticals, food and beverages. These businesses can use the plastic load carriers in the form of pallets, bins and crates, which are built to last considerably longer than wooden pallets or cardboard cartons, Fonteyn reports, and thus can be reused more often and be less prone to breakage. That means less waste, he adds, as well as more efficient and sustainable supply chains. According to Tosca, plastic pallets can typically be used approximately 100 times before being recycled.
Along with the production and provisioning of pooled containers that it rents to customers, Tosca offers a range of services via its global service centers. These facilities are dedicated to keeping the items circulating and in good condition, Tosca explains, by inspecting, properly washing and repairing containers. Fonteyn says Tosca is at the forefront of the transition to reusable products for greater sustainability. As the company grows and receives requests for traceability from customers, he adds, its goal has been to achieve full supply chain visibility in order to better manage those assets and improve efficiency, while also reducing waste.
Challenges in Tracking Reusable Carriers
As part of its growth, Tosca acquired rental services and RTI company Contraload in September 2020. The company has between 100 and 200 million assets in use, and it invoices its customers based on the cycles of its RTIs—that is, based on trips to a customer and back. Traditionally, this has primarily been a volume-driven process, rather than a matter of individually tracking each item. The challenge for Tosca has been to attain greater insight into the usage of its assets, as well as identify issues throughout the supply chain, including losses or breakages.
Tracing assets once they leave for a customer site and then return, often to a different depot, poses a challenge. In the past, the company operated as a volume-driven business. Tosca knew how many of a specific asset was being sent, but it could less easily identify those assets uniquely. Crates and other items often travel through complex supply chains, from farmers or suppliers and manufacturers. “At the moment,” Fonteyn says, “the biggest difficulty in our businesses as a pooling company is a huge need to track and trace everything.”
When Tosca acquired Contraload in 2015, the latter was already applying RFID tags to some of its expensive assets, and Tosca inherited those efforts. The company also offers sensor-based Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for those tracking high-value goods. For instance, Tosca provides foldable liquid bins for shipping high-value pharmaceutical products, so it developed a sensor-based system to measure where each product is located in real time, with the help of IoT technology provider Sensolus.
When it came to RFID tracking, one initial challenge Tosca faced was based on finding a single identification system for all of its assets. “One of the challenges was that the company’s original global stock of assets was heterogenous, equipped with mixed identification technologies,” explains Hélène de Lailhacar, Mojix’s VP of marketing. Thus, Mojix and Coriel were tasked with creating a unified inventory.
The second challenge was to enable reliable data capture at key points throughout each asset’s cycle, de Lailhacar says, while a third involved interfacing with Tosca’s asset-management platform. The resulting solution provides a detailed view of individual asset lifecycles, intended to increase asset rotation with fewer shortages and overstocks, while labor hours spent managing location data could be reduced, thereby freeing workers’ time for higher value-added tasks. Ultimately, she says, the goal is to provide a significant improvement in the quality of customer service.
How RFID Works for Tosca and Its Customer
Half-pallet assets belonging to Tosca’s retailer customer, which are shipped and served by Tosca, are individually tracked via two RFID tags applied to the opposite sides of every asset. Each tag is encoded with a unique ID number linked to that specific asset and its history. RFID readers have been deployed at 11 Tosca service centers to date, which capture those tag IDs as the pallets move through the servicing area. When tagged pallets are received back from a customer at any of these sites, a portal reader interrogates the RFID tags.
Mojix’s software updates the data, which is correlated with each RTI’s status and is then shared with Tosca’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and subsequently with the retailer that owns those pallets. Each tagged asset is next routed to an inspection area, where workers check for any damage. The tag is read as the asset enters this area. If the item is damaged and cannot be repaired, it is sent to be scrapped, but if it requires some repair, the pallet is routed to the repair area, where the tag is read a third time.
The next step for each pallet is the washing process, which takes place in a dedicated area that is also equipped with fixed RFID reader portals. Once the washing process is completed, the RTI can be staged for shipping to the next customer, at which point the tag is read a final time. The company employs handheld readers for reading any tags that fail at a reader gate, or if another exception occurs.
In addition to real-time updates regarding the assets’ status, Mojix’s software provides data and dashboards enabling users to monitor operations, as well as ensure correct billing and the quality control of Tosca’s asset suppliers. All the collected data is made available through representational state transfer (REST) architecture-based application programming interfaces, de Lailhacar says, so Tosca can create additional reporting for internal and external purposes.
Tracing Every Pallet Increases Efficiencies
“The technology has helped the company better understand its own efficiencies,” Fonteyn says, adding that in some cases, that’s been good news. “We thought we’re somewhere between six and seven cycles a year, but we actually implemented the full-scale traceability based on RFID, [and] we saw that the actual turnaround was more like 12 to 13.” Since the system was taken live, he reports, Tosca has been able to measure each service center’s performance, along with overall supply chain performance and specific asset longevity.
The technology allows the company to view what happens to each asset, how many times repair was required for specific items and who last had broken assets. Previously, Fonteyn says, understanding the loss or breakage of assets was a matter of guesswork. “We pride ourselves in what we call loss prevention,” he states, “so effectively trying not to charge customers for more than what they owe us, but providing that through manual tracking, was challenging. Now, because we know where we are shipping assets, we can identify who might be breaking assets, and then we can contact them,” to identify and address any problems.
Fonteyn says the data enables better management of the supply chain since the company knows where its assets are located, when they are delayed and if shortages are anticipated. “Because of RFID,” he explains, “we’re better able to determine where [pallets] are going and where they’re coming back from.” Next, Tosca plans to begin including its own assets in tag reads at the sites at which readers are installed. The company may also encourage customers to leverage the RFID tags to identify when the RTIs are received or shipped from their own sites.
The deployment follows Tosca’s modular approach, Fonteyn says, with RFID software integrated into its own ERP management system. “It’s what I call ‘loosely coupled’ at first,” he states, “and next, we will get into coupling more relevant data [over time].” De Lailhacar calls the project’s scale “staggering,” considering that the 1.5 million items are being equipped from the point of production with both RFID and barcode tags. “What is unique about Mojix and Coriel,” she says, “is the expertise in global RFID projects.” That experience, she adds, was leveraged to enable the interoperability, flexibility and scalability of the edge-to-cloud technical architecture.
- Tosca has provided an RFID-based track-and-trace solution for a large retailer that uses the company’s reusable asset-logistics services to identify each asset’s location and status.
- In the long term, the company is building UHF RFID tags into its own pallets as they are manufactured, for internal purposes.