RFID in Postal and Courier Services

Introduction

A basic RFID system comprises of tags that hold unique tracking information about an item, as well as a tag reader. The RFID reader emits radio signals to activate the tag, read the data on it and, in some cases, write data as well. Compared to bar codes, read-only tags can be “read” faster (< 100 milliseconds) and in a variety of visually challenging conditions such as non-line-of-sight scenario, dust, snow, and within packing material. The tag continually reports the item’s location, condition, and status to any reader connected to on-site information systems or to remote databases via the Internet.

There are two kinds of RFID systems

  • Passive RFID systems use tags with no internal power source and instead are powered by the electromagnetic energy transmitted from an RFID reader.
  • Active RFID systems use battery-poweredRFID tags that continuously broadcast their own signal.

Use cases of RFID Systems for Couriers & Messengers include:

  • Tracking and monitoring packages
  • Managing package invoices from shipments overseas
  • Maintaining logs for packages
  • Organizing delivery schedules for overnight and express delivery packages
  • Courier and Messenger Organizations
  • RFID systems can help eliminate human error and minimize tedious human tasks. An RFID system can aid in completely automating the process of mail delivery; from accepting a package to classification to dispatching the package.
  • Automated Management of Multiple Packages
  • The storage and organization of multiple packages can be managed using RFID solutions.
  • Inventory and Equipment Management in the Courier/Messenger Facility
  • RFID does not only aid in the tagging and sorting process on arrival to aid in the delivery process, it can also help identify issues with equipment and inventory of tags. This may allow for reduced human error and efficiency improvements.
  • Tracking Fleet Vehicles
  • From delivery vans and trucks to bicycles, the fleet is an important asset in courier and messenger operations. To ensure the optimum use of fleet vehicles, RFID Vehicle Tags can be provided to every asset. With each vehicle’s unique information embedded on the tag, the RFID Asset Tracking System’s Software can monitor fleet movement in real-time; ensuring that operation has 100% visibility on where vehicles are at what times, thereby improving efficiency and preventing loss.
  • Time Management with Automated Time Logs
  • Time logs can be maintained for tasks including sorting or packaging/repackaging time sensitive materials, delivery van arrival, loading, unloading and departure, and cleaning and maintenance staff time logs. Logs can also be automatically created every time an asset, inventory, or employee passes by doorways outfitted with Long Range RFID Readers.
  • Security Systems and Access Control

Ref: https://gaorfid.com/postal-services-rfid-systems

Alternatives:

  • Bar-codes and QR-codes
  • GPS: Expensive than RFID, requires active power sources, ideal for tracking high-value item, gives away the real-time location.
  • BLE: Bluetooth low energy, essentially RFID but a slightly different operational method.
  • Bio-metric Identifiers
  • Pattern recognition matching: Similar to bio-metric but reads images and interprets. For example, License plates
  • NFC: A subset of RFID technology operating at a higher frequency. NFC is designed to be a secure form of data exchange, and an NFC device is capable of being both an NFC reader and an NFC tag. This unique feature allows NFC devices to communicate peer-to-peer.
  • GSM: Very costly; works within a mobile network or Wifi

Ref: http://sdiwc.net/digital-library/an-evaluation-of-rfid-security-systems-for-tracking-of-parcels-in-kenya.html

Risks associated with RFID

Standards risks: The lack of industry-wide RFID standards impacts adoption and interoperability. If information needs to be read, shared, and managed by multiple companies in a supply chain, the issue of different standards gets serious.

Change management: User inability to manage change is an important risk when implementing RFID. For example, the lack of training among military service personnel on the use of RFID tags and other tracking tools adversely affected asset visibility and logistics in the 2003 war effort in Iraq.

IT operations risks: Like any large IT system, RFID will incur high costs of maintenance, and support may be difficult to manage. A close parallel is ERP implementation, where several companies found the eventual costs to be higher and the benefits lower than envisioned.

Technical risks: Signal interference and noise arises when ambient warehouse conditions distort the electromagnetic signals sent by the tag and/or reader. A McKinsey report mentions field trials where single-tagged pallets were read with 78% accuracy and double-tagged with only 95% accuracy.

Obsolescence risk: RFID is likely to evolve in the future. Any investment in the technology may become obsolete if the next generation of RFID is significantly different or technologies like NFC and BLE may offer an economic output as a substitute.

IT security risks: RFID tags should ideally be read only by the relevant supply chain partner(s).

  • Inconsistent data occurs when readers at different points along the supply chain receive inconsistent information from the same tag. If readers and tags are not foolproof, there is a danger that junk data will generate junk performance measures and hence junk decisions.
  • RFID radio signals can also be blocked or jammed by external interference. This can cause denial-of-service not only to the RFID tags but also at the data and network level.

Advantages of RFID system over Barcode for the Courier applications are

  • Avoids human error by eliminating the need for a line of sight between tag and reader.
  • Resistant to dirt, heat, paint, solvents
  • Ability to store collected information for future review.
  • Efficient resource allocation by identifying multiple tags simultaneously.
  • Access control: Provides secure access of people.
  • Efficient sorting process.
  • Less human involvement required.
  • Simplified location of parcels, conveyances, trailers, etc.

Case studies:

UK logistics sector:

Usability of RFID has significant impact on its adoption in the UK logistics sector.

  • Data analysis using regression has shown that the usability of RFID technology positively influences its adoption.
  • This finding leads to another futuristic view of RFID that training on RFID will improve the knowledge of the user and hence can encourage the logistics companies to adopt RFID.
  • The size of the company (number of employees) is not a criterion to be considered for the adoption of RFID.
  • Previous experiences of a firm in using barcodes do not moderate the positive relationship between usability and adoption.
  • There is a positive moderating effect of government support on the relationship between usability and adoption of RFID. Different forms of support from the Government, such as finance, new projects, training and simple regulations, can help the company in adopting the new technology, RFID in the UK logistics sector.

Ref.: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/42393229.pdf

Nordic logistics company: ‘Bring’:

RFID tags are inserted in the parcel label and when the parcels approach an RFID scanner at the carrier, the RFID label is automatically read and updated with EDI messages about the parcel via antennas. By doing so, the carrier does not have to hand scan the parcel. When the label is RFID scanned the carrier may add events to the parcel, for example sending ‘your parcel is on its way’ notification to the customer.

A manager at Extra Optical (Online eyewear shop) says about RFID’s benefits: “We have shortened the delivery time by one day, and we have virtually no errors in deliveries. Our customers experience a better service and increased degree of usability as we and our customers always have an overview of where the parcel is located. It also means that our customer service receives far fewer calls regarding tracking of parcels.

Ref.: https://edelivery.net/2016/02/case-study-rfid-improves-the-delivery-experience

RFID in Postal and Courier Services

DHL: Temperature tracking system (pharmaceutical)
Deutsche Post: Parcel package management, Measuring letter transit times
United Parcel Service (UPS): Monitoring vehicle movement, boxes, aircraft containers, freight assets
U.S. Postal Service: Mail security and tracking
FedEx: Keyless entry and ignition system for delivery trucks
Australia Post: Tracking envelopes
Korea Post: Tracking roll cages, Mail delivery
China Post (in Shanghai Post): Automation and computerization of EMS (Express Mail Service) dispatch processing
Taiwan’s Chunghwa Post company: Delivery package and parcels
Saudi Post: Postal boxes
Swiss postal service: Identifying swap containers on trains and lorries
Italian Post Office: Tracking and tracing mail bags
Finland Post: Tracking roll cages

Reference: Oztaysi, B., Baysan, S., & Dursun, P. A novel approach for economic justification of RFID technology in courier sector: a real-life case study. 1st Annual RFID Eurasia (pp. 1-5). IEEE.

Highlights:

  • Programmable RFID/ NFC postage stamps can be explored: enabling an end user to enter details like address manually using a smartphone.
  • Sophisticated technology like NFC can be explored to include the usage of smartphones but with comparatively higher cost implications.
  • Ecosystem for Reusable tags.
  • Further study: Comparison of cost analysis for implementation of RFID and NFC based system.
  • Studying of data tampering and data access protocols for RFID tags.
  • GPS chips for real-time tracking, at a higher cost.
  • IT software upgradation for robotic process automation-based warehouses, for time reduction.
  • Postal and courier service is expected to be second largest market for RFID.
Vedang R. Vatsa

IT & Management Consultant