From ordering to recollecting RPCs: Going digital with IFCO

written by IFCO SYSTEMS, 28th March 2019, in News

As various industries move towards having a more integrated business flow, even the food supply chain is demanding more digital solutions. At every step, IFCO offers integrated digital services that help our customers adapt to rapidly changing market demands.

Advancing on six spindly legs, an agricultural robot methodically spreads seeds along a field’s furrows. Before the robot drops the seeds, tiny sensors measure the shape and size of each one. Should any seeds seem inferior, the machine "decides" to drop a few more into the earth. As the crops grow, sensors implanted in the field will track moisture, fertilizer and any chemicals applied. Robotics and sensor technologies such as these already contribute to "precision farming," enabled by automation and powered by digitalization. "Many agricultural experts say that precision farming is ‘decision farming,’" says IFCO CEO Wolfgang Orgeldinger. This means that data collection and connectivity give farmers precise information they need to find solutions – for increasing crop yield, improving efficiency and maintaining field health.

Agriculture is fundamentally transforming itself with digital farming solutions. And businesses all along the food supply chain are aiming for greater precision also, by increasingly basing many of their operations and services on digital technologies. Following their high-tech start, fresh foods – as well as other perishable goods – are accompanied by Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), cellular or satellite networks during their journey.

Logistics operations trace shipments to ensure an unbroken cold chain, then distribution centers track incoming and outgoing deliveries. Robots and conveyors do the sorting and order picking in automated warehouses and distribution centers. Retailers are also automating processes and using data analysis to more accurately forecast demand. And once foods have arrived in consumers’ kitchens, smart refrigerators connected through the Internet of Things (IoT) can monitor supplies, and even place orders with retailers.

Driving digitalization at IFCO

As digital technologies continue to expand along the retail supply chain, IFCO is driving digitalization among providers of pooling systems for perishable food products. "Through innovation at every step of the IFCO SMARTCYCLE™ , we ensure food safety, improve efficiency and offer services that make our customers’ lives easier," says Orgeldinger.

How does digitalization benefit IFCO customers? Our digital services provide customers with a more integrated business flow. For example, our software improves track-and-trace capabilities, which help to guarantee food safety. Online tools and mobile capabilities reduce the effort customers need to manage their RPC assets – which saves them time and money. And IFCO RPCs enable automation, which is key to precise and efficient food distribution.

Increasing efficiency along the food supply chain

Our clients’ digital journey at IFCO begins online with MyIFCO™. Users access this service at no cost and without a software download, just their unique customer ID.

MyIFCO™ makes managing pool processes easier overall. This online password-protected digital service covers the entire administration of IFCO RPCs, including ordering, deposit transactions, inventory and recollection. MyIFCO is available in more than 20 languages, and also offers direct contact to local customer service.

MyIFCO™ Online Ordering

With sometimes huge fluctuations in yields, or in product demand, growers and packers need a fast and flexible way to order IFCO RPCs. With its responsive design, MyIFCO™ online ordering is always at your fingertips on any digital device. With just a few clicks, customers can conveniently order online and schedule delivery, and the "upload order" function lets users process multiple orders simultaneously. The clear design and calendar display mean no training is needed. Pre-set parameters guide users in selecting the correct models, shipment quantities and dates. The "My Favorites" option speeds up product selection, and colorful, eye-catching truck icons mark the dates of pending deliveries or returns.

MyIFCO™ recollect

Managing IFCO RPCs has never been easier. Our new MyIFCO™ recollect app makes recollection and inspection simple. When retailers, inventory managers, dispatchers and warehouse workers want to schedule recollection of IFCO RPCs, they can quickly scan stacks – or even mixed palettes – to effortlessly count, identify and record the quantities. Both our online ordering software and recollection app are integrated into the IFCO backend system. Pre-set parameters also correctly allocate full truckloads.

SmartGuardian™

Precision cleaning and disinfection of IFCO RPCs comes from our SmartGuardian™ software. It monitors our fully automated washing and sanitation processes, then digitally documents all steps and stores the data. At the end of each shift, the software produces a report on the parameters, including warnings. In this way, SmartGuardian™ verifies that food transported in IFCO RPCs avoids contamination from packaging.

Digital inventory management

Here, too, MyIFCO™ recollect helps count and identify IFCO RPCs that have been returned to service centers for storage and dispatch. By streamlining processes, IFCO also optimizes inventory management. And through better allocation of shipments, we lower environmental impact and improve sustainability.

Increasing transparency

Along the food supply chain, digital processes and automation increase precision, convenience and productivity to lower unit costs. And particularly in this industry, with its strict regulations, food safety is another reason behind this investment and development. "Above all, the ever-expanding digitalization at IFCO increases transparency for consumers, supporting a pallet-level audit trail for the highest possible food safety," Orgeldinger explains. Combining sensors with more advanced data analysis may soon allow seamless food tracking along the entire supply chain for every IFCO RPC. In Switzerland, IFCO has successfully piloted end-to-end monitoring via smart IFCO RPCs equipped with sensors.

From robotic seed spreaders in farmers’ fields, through retail analysis and forecasting, all the way to smart refrigerators in consumer kitchens, the range of precision technologies contribute to a truly digital supply chain. Digitalization is transforming operations in food retail supply chains, and IFCO is leading among pooling systems. "The data we collect helps us to better understand our customers, so we can come up with better ways to serve them," says Orgeldinger. "Digital services and data connectivity give us the flexibility to better meet, respond to – or anticipate – customer needs and wishes."

Useful terms to know: from digitization to Industry 4.0

  • Digitization: Converting information into digital form. This often involves turning analog procedures (such as reporting) into digital ones.
  • Digitalization: Using digitized information, or data, to optimize business operations, as well as online or mobile applications that help simplify processes. Companies digitize communications and processes and increasingly move these to databases or to the cloud.
  • Digital transformation: Collecting, connecting and analyzing data, increasingly through artificial intelligence or machine learning, for better use of resources. Businesses adopt digital strategies to fundamentally change the way they do business and to create new business applications that make use of digital data.
  • Industry 4.0: In the 1800s, steam and water power brought about the first industrial revolution (Industry 1.0). Electricity, combustion engines and the use of assembly lines contributed to Industry 2.0 in the early 20th century. Some 70 years later, computers, electronic, robotics and the internet introduced Industry 3.0. In the early 2000s, "smart" devices, data analytics and digital business models have created Industry 4.0. These technologies improve communication, monitoring and data analysis – and enable a more integrated business flow.
  • Internet of Things (IoT): The connection of appliances, cars or simple objects to the internet, along with devices such as computers or smartphones. Sensors collect and transmit data.

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