Upall, a joint venture that is led by James Jones & Sons, is trialling the use of RFID technology to help track and recover more of its protected pallets.

While good traceability has always been important in fresh produce, customer demand for more sustainable supply chains and lower costs have pushed this even higher up the agenda – and suppliers are looking for applications that can help them enhance their performance in this area.

Packaging tracking is one of the most promising solutions currently being trialled. The price of RFID (radio frequency identification) tagging technology has dropped significantly since its first use more than 20 years ago and is now becoming a viable method for tracing FMCG and other goods; while keeping pallets and other packaging in circulation, increasing reuse opportunities, and reducing costs.

Upall extends the average lifespan of the FSC-accredited wooden ‘Euro’ pallets already used in supply chains from FMCG to pharmaceutical products by more than three times - according to testing at Virginia Tech and Napier University, Edinburgh. Robust guards fitted at the points of entry for forklifts or pallet trucks, protect the most frequently damaged areas of the pallet, including blocks and base boards, and make them highly resistant to impact.

Following the academic testing, products are now being trialled in real-world situations by businesses keen to reduce downtime during the lifespan of their pallets - typically when they are out of service being repaired - and increase the number of times they can be used before they are recycled.

In addition, and in response to customer requests, planning is underway to fit RFID tags on the Upall pallets, allowing firms to add product traceability - and boost the benefits of the new pallets in the process.

The new ‘passive’ RFID tags are scanned once the pallets arrive at their destinations, allowing users to know their location as they move around the site. The tag is scanned at each touch point on site – including dispatch, return, repair and so on.

This gives users sight of where their pallets are in their supply chain and dramatically reduces the likelihood of the products and their pallets from going missing in transit. This is also important for these enhanced pallets because their longer lifespan, cost savings, and sustainability benefits increases their value.

James Jones & Sons (Pallets and Packaging) managing director Peter McKenzie said: ‘RFID technology will allow us to augment the existing benefits of these protected pallets for customers, increasing the reliability, sustainability, and economy of any supply chains that use wooden Euro pallets. We are working with our existing pallet clients to test these in real-world situations and are looking forward to reporting back on the results we achieve.’

The business is also looking at the use of QR codes and has just embarked on a trial with a major supplier to the building trade. The codes are applied to the protective guards and scanned with a reader or other mobile device to provide traceability on pallets of goods.

The Upall team is currently studying the best areas of the pallet to carry the tag, from the face of the guard to the centre block of the pallet. Businesses lining up to trial the new technology included product manufacturers and pallet pooling firms.