There's the Beef

Food distributor uses real-time wireless solution to track assets at warehouse

Santa Clara, CA  October 3, 2001  Tracking a Popsicle in real-time as it moves through a 600-acre distribution center is no mean feat, but it's mission critical if you want to ensure the frozen treat gets to its intended store shelf without melting.

That has been the challenge facing Salt Lake City-based Associated Food Stores (AFS), a $1 billion cooperatively owned wholesale distributor. AFS provides warehouse facilities and services to nearly 600 grocers throughout an eight-state region.

To help keep fresh fruit, meat and other foodstuffs moving efficiently through its distribution center in Farr West, Utah, AFS is implementing a wireless asset tracking system. The system will allow the company to locate, track and manage those goods, as well as the transportation assets that keep the Popsicles on the move.

The system, from solution provider WhereNet, provides real-time location and telemetry information for each of the several hundred trailers and associated equipment that AFS employs. Using the wireless system, AFS can pinpoint the location of yard resources to within 10 feet at the distribution center, which supports the shipment of 600 truckloads of groceries every week.

AFS also used WhereNet's software development kit to automatically provide real-time location information to the existing AFS Yard Management System.

"WhereNet allows us to track, locate and monitor transportation assets and the contents of every load of lettuce, Popsicles and chicken in real time, all the time," said Tim Van de Merwe, internal logistics manager for AFS. "WhereNet enables AFS to provide our member stores with on-time service and fresher food than ever before."

WhereNet says that by using the system, AFS should be able to eliminate manual yard inventory searches, speed operations and reduce spoilage at the site. AFS is looking to achieve a complete return on investment in less than one year.

The real-time locating system is based on wireless radio frequency tags, a local infrastructure of antennas, and location processors. The tags, called WhereTags, have been permanently mounted on all AFS-owned trailers, tractors and dollies. The tags send signals out on a regular basis, enabling the WhereNet system, through the antennas and location processors, to track the tagged assets from the moment they enter the yard.

In addition, consumer goods manufacturers' fleets are temporarily tagged upon entering the AFS distribution center, providing constant visibility and expediting the throughput of grocery goods.

The AFS installation marks WhereNet's first major deployment in the wholesale grocery industry, following initiatives in the automotive, consumer goods, transportation and health care markets.

Coming in the January 2002 issue of iSource Business, learn how Ford Motor Co. is using a wireless real-time tracking system to keep its vehicles moving from plant to dealer.