CaliperRFID aims to automate caliper process

CaliperRFID aims to automate caliper process

The device uses RFID technology to make inventory management more efficient for tree growers.

March 22, 2017

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Arbré Technologies launched its new CaliperRFID product in January. The device is designed to automate the calipering process for tree nurseries and improve inventory management for tree growers.

“One of the biggest problems in inventory management for nurseries is having accurate and frequent calipering data, mostly because it is very labor-intensive,” said Benjamin Meyers, co-founder and partner of Arbré Technologies. “Our goal with CaliperRFID is to solve this problem once and for all.”

In the most basic terms, CaliperRFID is a tie or band that is attached to the trunk of a tree; six inches from the root flare to comply with ANSI Z60.1 standards. The band is specifically designed to expand with the tree as it grows. When the band is scanned with a radiofrequency identification (RFID) reader, the caliper is automatically stored in the Arbré Technologies cloud where availability lists are updated and ready for use.

“I think this technology has interesting potential for the nursery industry and I am interested in conducting research to determine its effectiveness under nursery conditions,” said Tom Fernandez, professor in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University. Fernandez, who has conducted extensive RFID research at J. Frank Schmidt & Son, Co., may be collaborating with Arbré Technologies on future grant funding and research opportunities. 

Sam Doane, product horticulturist at J. Frank Schmidt & Son, weighed-in on the new tech.

“We are looking forward to having an electronic tracking system in place that will allow us to have current information about the inventory and size of our trees,” Doane said. “The nursery is in the early stages of implementing Arbré Tech’s software solution for tracking arboretum and research stock.”

The company launched Arbré Nursery, its first software solution, at The Farwest Show last August. The unique system offers zone mapping, sale creation, and key performance indicators that provide nursery men and women with the data they need to make better business decisions.

“Not only does this band automate calipering through the simplicity of scanning the band with the reader, other inventory data are also attached to the RFID chip, so you get the basic inventory tracking value in addition to the caliper value,” said Matthieu Vollmer, co-founder and partner of Arbré Technologies.

Inventory data such as tree species, the date of planting, and the vendor the tree was purchased from, can be encoded in the RFID. This ultimately creates an RFID solution that provides inventory tracking value plus autonomous calipering; RFID at an entirely new level for growers. Arbré Tech says that they are just starting to scratch the surface with this device.

“If you can imagine these devices on every tree in a farm, and having RFID readers mounted on an ATV, vehicle or drone; essentially you would be able to drive or fly over a farm and collect all of your inventory counts and caliper readings simultaneously,” Vollmer said. “Now that is efficiency!”

CaliperRFID reduces the calipering process to a maximum of one person driving on a motorized vehicle.

“If you think about the traditional calipering method, at least two people, even crews in some cases, are involved for days if not weeks on end, simply walking rows and measuring trees,” Meyers said. “Traditionally, one person measures and calls a number while the other ties ribbons. Some nurseries record those measurements on a sheet to take the measurements back to the office for data entry. CaliperRFID, while being integrated with our state-of-the-art software solution, eliminates the need for this process.”

“We can’t wait to see what the future holds for this technology,” Vollmer said. “Our long-term vision is a long-range RFID reader that can reach every corner of a farm, whether that is a central tower, or a play on GPS via satellite.”

Chief product engineers, Mike Riebel and Milton Riebel of The Design Shop, Mankato, Minnesota, agree that the device is applicable to many other industries including but not limited to forestry management and climate change research.

“In talking with key contacts at the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at the University of Minnesota Duluth, we quickly realized the need for this kind of technology across the green asset industry,” Mike Riebel said. “Integrating long-range scanning with basic RFID chips is going to make tremendous advancements in these industries.”

The Design Shop participated in the development of radio antennas that were instrumental in wide-spread cellular communications.

According to Arbré Tech, they don’t necessarily think about this as a way to eliminate labor, but as a way to free up labor so that it can be allocated for value-adding activities.

“The lack of supply coupled with a labor shortage makes nursery expansion a challenge,” Meyers said. “CaliperRFID allows a grower to take needed labor and direct it toward expansion or any other activity; meanwhile offering more accurate, more frequent and less costly inventory data. It is a win-win on all accounts.”

Vollmer said the RFID technology can help nurseries keep inventory lists and caliper data up-to-date and more precise.

“One of the biggest issues that we see at nurseries is that their availability lists and caliper data are outdated or rely on samples with large margins of error,” he said. “This means dollars are being left on the table. For example, if a tree nursery calipers once per year, and a tree is calipered in fall but isn't sold until late spring, the tree may have gained a quarter inch of caliper; however, the nursery may only charge the customer based on the original caliper reading. They end up with an undercut price and/or the wrong size being sold. CaliperRFID lends itself to the ideals of precision agriculture.”

Benjamin says, “We welcome any and all feedback from nurseries on this new product. We created this product for nurseries and it's meant to solve problems. We can't solve major industry problems if we don’t have solid input from the growers themselves.”

This patent pending technology is in development with rapid prototyping taking place in spring of 2017. The product is slated for mass production by spring of 2018. Pricing is yet to be determined. Arbré Technologies is accepting pre-orders with minimum down payments throughout the final stages of research and development.

For more information regarding CaliperRFID, visit the website.