Brazil is the international lab to improve processes and offer new postal services around the world, with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Under the baton of Universal Postal Union, United Nations (UN) specialized agency that coordinates postal policies among member countries, Correios Brazil are implementing the use of smart packaging technologies in letters and especially in product boxes, a growing demand in e-commerce. The systems are up and running and follow the global RFID GS1 standards.
The project is being implemented in stages, in a joint action with the UPU. “This is the first worldwide project for tracking postal cargo using UHF RFID technology”, explains the official statement from Correios to IoP Journal. “The complexity of the implementation involves tracking postal cargoes that have a diversity of materials, dimensions and spatial orientation, in addition to needing to have their data captured in small time windows and in large quantities.”
Due to the initial conditions, it was adopted as a premise to maintain the current operational processes of loading, unloading and handling packages. “The tracking process with the use of barcodes is also being maintained, in parallel, since at this time the project does not aim to replace the entire park of equipment and infrastructure implemented by this type of tracking”, added the official statement from Correios to IoP Journal. With the advance in the use of RFID technology, in the opinion of the Correios executive, the need to improve some operational processes will certainly be identified. “The use of RFID technology in the postal environment is just beginning and, certainly, changes in processes will be observed along the learning curve.”
The technology selection was carried out in conjunction with the UPU, based on the low cost of RFID tags, in order to minimally impact the value of postal services. “Orders transported by Correios have a wide range of contents and are mostly of low value, which would not justify the adoption of active tags”, explains the official statement from Correios to IoP Journal. On the other hand, there was a need to adopt the most used standard in the market and one that would present better benefits, such as the relation between cost and reading performance for our type of load. “Furthermore, the use of standards allows for rapid adoption of the technology, as there are numerous solution and input providers on the market. It is noteworthy that the use of market standards [such as GS1’s] allows customers to obtain gains in their processes, outside the postal ecosystem”.
Readers are installed at the cargo entry and exit gates of Correios’ main operational units throughout the country. These units include sorting centers, cargo terminals, distribution centers, international centers, among others. At Correios, parcels or packages are transported in a unitized manner, inside cargo containers, which hold hundreds of packages, depending on individual dimensions and weights.
“Each order has its own RFID tag and the load unitizers also have a permanent RFID tag, in this case with the GS1 GRAI-96 identifier”, says the official statement from Correios to IoP Journal. “In a typical case, when a unitizer is loaded or unloaded from the trunk of a truck, the reader installed on the loading dock carries out the inventory of the unitizer’s contents and transmits the information to the company’s central repository. Package passing information is reflected in the object tracking system that is consulted by customers”.
Readers were selected through an international tender conducted by the UPU. The RFID reading kit consists of an Impinj reader, Keonn antennas, and a mini PC onboard, which are integrated by Kyubi (Comercial Arqué). “The project includes 2009 reader kits, in various configurations, of which approximately half are already installed in around 50 operating units”, says the official statement from Correios to IoP Journal.
The project was designed so that customers themselves could purchase and produce the labels for their orders, already with RFID technology incorporated, without limiting the use to a specific brand or model of inlay and giving wide freedom of choice. “Given the inexistence, at the time, of technical standards for the performance of inlays for use in logistical or postal processes, several field tests were carried out, involving the wide range of types of cargo that are processed daily at Correios, with an inlay having been identified performance benchmark. This is the inlay called Smartrac Dogbone Monza R6”.
To guide customers on inlays that can provide adequate read rates, the company has published a listing of inlays called RPC (Recommended by the Post), which perform equal to or better than the reference inlay.
According to the official statement from Correios to IoP Journal, there were several challenges in the project, such as identifying the installation locations of each RFID reader kit, preparing the infrastructure, designing and developing the database, applications and integration with corporate systems, training the team involved and the production of technical materials for internal and external use. “Furthermore,” says the official document, “an important challenge was the complexity of tracking postal cargoes that present a diversity of materials, dimensions and spatial orientation, as well as the need to capture data in small time windows and in large quantities.”
The official statement from Correios to IoP Journal says that, at this first moment, it will be possible to improve the customer’s journey with regard to the location of their order. It will be possible to provide information on the exact moment when your package entered or left a certain operational unit, as well as the addition of new events in the process of monitoring the movement of the object, from its origin to the final recipient.
All the efforts of the Correios team lead to the implantation of readers in around 180 operating units and the consolidation of the use of technology by our customers. “We understand that this process should take the next 18 months”, calculates Correios at the official statement to IoP Journal.
The company has its own system for the track & trace process (location and tracking of orders), called SRO (Object Tracking System), which was developed for the use of barcode technology, through manual reading or in automated sorting equipment, from tracking labels, which are affixed to orders (Sedex label).
“The RFID system was set up with its own database, bearing in mind the specifics of frequency of reading and the identifiers used”, reports the official statement from Correios to IoP Journal. “Information is sent to the SRO continuously and made available to customers through digital channels. In addition, a great effort was made to integrate with the posting systems used by the branch network and by our clients”.
The solution’s database is centralized in Brasília and some information is sent to the UPU cloud, in Switzerland. The evolution to the new middleware, which is being developed by Redbite, is foreseeing the use of cloud architecture (AWS IoT) for processes of health monitoring (maintenance), parameterization and updating of embedded software in readers.
In a simplified way to understand the Post Office project, the process starts with the labeling of the package or order. Each package currently receives a barcode tracking label engraved with a UPU-standardized identifier, called an S10, which has a two-letter, nine-number format and ends with two letters (example: ML123456789BR). This is the main identifier of the package, for contractual purposes and for the customer to carry out research in the Correios’ tracking system.
This information is captured throughout the postal flow, through manual or automated reading of the respective barcode. The S10 identifier is both provided by Correios to contract customers, who produce their personalized labels, and it is also generated on the Sedex label, for example, which is affixed to individual customer orders served by counters at branches.
“With the adoption of RFID, the S10 identifier will be kept in parallel with the identifier recorded on the inlay, which, in the case of packages and parcels, is the identifier in the GS1 SSCC (Serial Shipping Container Code) standard”, explains the official statement from Correios to IoP Journal. “In this way, each package contains two identifiers which, via the system, allow the identification of each shipment circulating through the Post Office in a different way, regardless of whether the tracking was carried out by means of bar code or by means of RFID”.
In the case of customers served at Post Office agencies, the attendant will affix the RFID tag and, via the service window system, link that particular package to its SSCC and S10 identifiers. “For contract customers, who request S10 identifiers via the network to prepare their shipments, they will be able to purchase their own RFID tags, customized according to their individual needs, and produce the RFID tags with their own SSCC encoding. That is, with its own CompanyPrefix, allowing integration and use in its internal processes, in addition to interoperability, when the package goes through several service providers”.
Another option is to link the SGTIN identifier of products that already have their own RFID tags to identify the package, linking to the S10 asset. The gains from the project, given its recent launch, are still being monitored.
The middleware currently in use was developed by Kyubi (Comercial Arqué). Its main tasks are filtering reading events, minimizing the sending of repeated information to the central repository, managing the captured data and sending information to support equipment maintenance. At the moment, a new middleware is being developed by Redbite, foreseeing the use of cloud architecture (AWS IoT) for processes of health monitoring (maintenance), parameterization and updating of software embedded in the readers.
As Correios has no direct relationship with the RFID hardware supplier, all negotiation at this level was conducted by the UPU, the body responsible for specifying and contracting the equipment. And the hardware solution supplier (RFID reader) was selected through an international tender published by the UPU, whose event also included Brazilian companies.
The applications, database and interfaces with the corporate systems currently in use were developed in-house. The processes for adapting the energy infrastructure and data communication at each of the installation sites were also developed with its own resources and specific contracts.
“Implementing RFID technology in a company the size of Correios, with wide geographic coverage, diversity and volume of processed cargo, with varied construction standards of the buildings, in addition to involving the different needs of thousands of customers from the most diverse segments, made the project unique and ambitious”, attests the official statement from Correios to IoP Journal. “The challenges were divided into five pillars – Infrastructure, Readers, Systems, Labels and Labeling -, aiming at a better organization of the project implementation”.