Companies have been increasingly using item-level Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) to trace and track the goods for inventory control purpose and also and supply chain management. Tagging every single product, not only improves the visibility of goods transport in the entire supply chain processes but also helping to remove common problems like inventory shortages in the supply chain.

Technically, RFID technology finds and tracks the retail products through the transmission of radio waves between an RFID tagged item and an RFID reader. RFID can be deployed in more than five frequency ranges, which are deployed depending on the business problem being solved. RFID will be a key enabling technology used to support the Internet of Things (IoT) in supply chain execution (SCE).

Some RFID applications have been evolved for inventory management purposes but mostly being limited due to implementation cost. However, the RFID and similar sensory technologies are identified as emerging innovations as strong asset management tools, in order to collect information on assets as they move through the supply chain. As an added value, RFID technologies provide the asset location visibility. Different RFID technologies will exist, as each technology has been invented for a specific process.  As an example, manufacturers, shippers, and retailers can leverage passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID solutions for better efficiency of cargo transhipment, store inventory counts, replenishment, preventing the loss of goods, and to meet the new customer preferences in order to improve their asset management in terms of cost and time savings.


RFID use varies by segment, with asset management beginning to lead adoption. The growth in processing power and tag memory will provide more applications where RFID is used. However, RFID may not be a substitute to the barcodes or more complex data collection solutions such as GPS, automated identification systems (AISs) used in ocean shipping or the use of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) messaging on status updates of asset location.

In the transport industry, RFID along with other innovations in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is being utilized in identifying vehicles locations and containers which use e-seals. The use of RFID e-seal in seaport container terminal is growing notably. For the terminal operators, the activities more influenced by this technology is the access control and the yard management. Figure.1 shows the activities modelled for the access control carried out by the terminal operator, focusing on entry controls only.

The application of RFID in the seaport container terminals has significantly affected the port terminal activities. It has led to great benefits while improving the efficiency of the entire terminal cargo handling activities. Moreover, it allows a better tracking and tracing of the containers both at the terminal and the supply chain level.

The application of RFID in the seaport container terminals has significantly affected the port terminal activities. It has led to great benefits while improving the efficiency of the entire terminal cargo handling activities. Moreover, it allows a better tracking and tracing of the containers both at the terminal and the supply chain level.

 As for the RFID infrastructure, every gate and every spreader has to be provided with RFID readers and antennas in order to identify the containers (See Figure 2).

The utilization of RFID technologies has been providing the ports and their customers with real-time location and status information, automated alerts, and analytics. In general, there are two categories of operational and non-operational benefits, by using RFID technology at port terminals. The operational benefits are related to the reduced costs of inventory Management Labor and equipment, faster and safer container checkouts, the collection of infrastructural data to use in Big Data analytics for system optimization, and enhancement in accuracy of inventory.

The use of RFID technology in a port environment can also lead to several non-operational benefits, as listed below:

  • The decrease in the time of handling activities results in the reduction of both the labour costs and fuel consumption. As a consequent, it leads to an increased productivity and also to a better service level both to customers.
  • Reduction of the time spent by the trucks waiting in the queue at the entrance of the container ports will reduce the air pollution caused by the trucks’ exhaust gas emissions with the relevant decrease of the health costs on the people in the area.
  •  intangible benefits which are easily observed, but difficult to quantify. Some relevant intangible benefits are the automatic identification of the containers, less human errors, container visibility and traceability, enhanced security, the reduction of the illegal trade, and the reduction of the administrative costs.


In spite of all benefits, however, the application of the RFID technologies has faced some challenges. First, the RFID technology, including both software or hardware, is costly in terms of initial capital cost and operational maintenance through the life of the solution. Furthermore, there is a technical limitation in the use of RFID working areas among liquids and metals, as both make it harder to get proper reads on assets. With metal, the problem stems from the radio waves bouncing all over the place. Liquids play havoc with RFID in that it can absorb signals sent from a tag.  There are other challenges coming from the interface of human and RFID technology. One is called the “RFID collision” course where a worker might come across interference from another reader in the field. “Tag collision” is a little different, in that workers with readers face issues in reading an abundance of tags at one time.  It happens when more than one tag reflects a signal, and it confuses the reader.


Good practices of RFID technology application

There are a lot of RFID projects carried out across the container terminal around the world. Circle Srl is an Italy-based consultancy company that conducted two different RFID projects. Circle provides process and management consulting services, innovative technological and digital solutions in ports, maritime and intermodal logistics market.  MILOS is the innovative modular solution developed by Circle for digitalizing, automating and optimizing transport and logistics operations.   MILOS allows logistics terminals, shippers and port authorities to speed up their procedures, enhancing their visibility of goods and reducing transit time along the entire supply chain.

MILOS IoT allows authorized companies and authorities (shippers, Port Authorities, logistics terminals, Customs Administrations, etc.) to access status information of monitored units (such as container, cars, trainers, etc.), matching logistics data with security information, supporting the related changes in business processes and the opportunities for process automation. MILOS IoT has a special focus on the integration of GPS, RFID active and passive technologies (tags and eSeals) into the full logistic chain business processes.

One of the Circle projects is the “B2MOS Project” that uses RFID e-seal in an RO-RO transport from Rades (Tunisia) and Leghorn (Italy) with a Preclearing customs procedure. The pilot involved an international RoRo transport of trailers between the ports using passive eSeals and a Corridor Management Platform was tested for the first time, integrating logistics and Customs aspects.


A wide range of stakeholders in Private sectors such as Port Terminals of Leghorn and Rades, Importers; Exporters; Shipping Company; Shipping Agency; and Freight Forwarders are involved. The Public Institution engaged are Leghorn and Rades Port Authority, Italian Port Captaincy, and Italian Customs Agency. The order of the operative flow is eSeal apposition, association Truck plate & e-Seal number, customs pre-clearing, interoperability framework, check of customs status, and Gate-out/customs control.

The other project of Circle Srl is the ongoing “Italian Car Manufacturer Company Project “. The project involved an international export transport of new vehicles with RFID tags inside, between the production plant and the ports of Salerno and Civitavecchia, to the final destination. A fast export procedure using passive RFID Tags and a Corridor Management Platform was implemented, integrating logistics and Customs aspects.  The operative flow starts with installing of RFID tags inside the production plant, and continues by transportation by truck or rail of new vehicles to the port of departure, then Loading of the transported units on the board of the ship, and finally ends with Automatic Gate-in inside the port area thanks to RFID antennas.

The application of RFID innovation,  as examples of IoT in logistics, in the two above-mentioned projects resulted in not only more security and visibility of goods for both private and public operators but also in reduced transit time and dwell time at the various checking points. Furthermore, it provided the possibility to exploit the benefits of simplified Customs procedure.


Further Perspective

In the future, item-level RFID could play a larger role in the Internet of Things because RFID tags could contain sensors capable of transmitting operational, location and situational data that could help improve manufacturing and supply chain operations.  Governments should encourage research and analysis on the economic and social impacts of the use of RFID in conjunction with other technologies and systems. Because of continuous technical innovation and its impact on the economy and society, monitoring developments and detecting trends early are essential to identify new opportunities to be seized, new challenges to be addressed, and to adjust policies. Potential developments of RFID   to be monitored include their combination with sensor-based systems, their cross-border use, the convergence of these technologies on the Internet, and their potential pervasiveness.


Author:  Reza Karimpour