RFID-tagged pallets driving iGPS' growth

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Rapidly growing iGPS LLC makes its plastic pallets fully traceable with radio frequency identification technology.

Although wood pallets dominate iGPS' target market, new federal customs regulations require chemical or heat treatment of those pallets and favor the use of plastics.

The Orlando, Fla.-based startup, which does business as Intelligent Global Pooling Systems, circulates a pool of 120,000 reinforced-plastic pallets. Each one incorporates an EPC (electronic product code) asset identifier and uses the firm's iSUM software - which stands for proprietary intelligent stock use and movement.

Schoeller Arca Systems NV, of Vilsteren, Netherlands, makes about 3,300 pallets daily for iGPS, inserting Generation 2 passive RFID tags. Schoeller's Morenci, Mich., plant works around the clock to make the pallets on four 2,300-ton injection presses. The company signed a long-term preferred supplier agreement with iGPS in September.

``We will increase [production] to 6,000 pallets a day in Michigan, and, by September, we will have an additional [contract manufacturing] site, probably in Dallas or Phoenix or someplace outside Las Vegas,'' said iGPS Chief Executive Officer Bob Moore.

Moore and President Rex Lowe, who began working on a business concept in early 2004, formed iGPS in March 2006, Moore said. Pegasus Capital Advisors LP of Cos Cob, Conn., is the firm's financial backer.

``We are now gearing up three extra tools so we will be able to supply 2 million pallets on a yearly basis starting in the late summer of 2007,'' said Schoeller Arca product manager Ludo Gielen.

Moore said iGPS and Schoeller are working to expand production further, to 4 million pallets a year.

Early iGPS trials with hand-built pallets used one RFID tag, but ``the read rate fell down,'' Moore said. Two tags on other pre-production pallets gave better readings, but by October, the firms were tagging all four corners with the same EPC global reusable asset identifier.

``Our integrator said that, for a few pennies, you can have all four [corner] blocks that will give you some absolutely astronomical tag readings,'' Moore said.

The same number is embedded in the read-only area of each of the four tags. The customer uses the tag's read-write area to record the pallet's contents.

Each iGPS pallet measures 48 inches by 40 inches by 5.6 inches and weighs 47 pounds. A pallet consists of a twin-sheet polyethylene top deck that's 1.1 inch thick and a PE underdeck, 1 inch thick, that uses five separate steel reinforcements.

Xterprise Inc. in Carrollton, Texas, supplies the RFID tags, mostly from Alien Technology Corp. of Morgan Hill, Calif.

``We are the first company in the world to buy a block of 25 million [RFID tag] numbers,'' Moore said.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., Coca Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. are among the firms renting or conducting trials with iGPS pallets.