Estimating cycle time and return rate distributions for returnable transport items

Document Type


Publication Date



cycle time, RFID, return rate distribution, returnable transport items, stochastic returns, tagged percentage


A return rate distribution for returnable transport items (RTI) is estimated from radio frequency identification (RFID) data. The technique is dependent on estimating a probability density function for backward fill-to-fill cycle times for the returnable containers. The cycle time distribution yields an estimate of a time period where most containers will return to the manufacturer. To obtain return rate observations, the number of returns in a production lot is observed by tracking the fill and return of uniquely tagged containers over this time period, adjusting for containers with long cycle times. The process also gives an estimate of the percentage of RTI tagged in the population or fleet of containers. The effects of estimation errors due to a partial RFID-tagging of the fleet are examined, and satisfactory results can be obtained when not all containers are tagged. The use of the cycle time and return rate distributions for creating a forecast of container returns is illustrated, and implementation of cycle time and return rate as indicators of supply chain performance is discussed.

Recommended Citation

Cobb, Barry R. "Estimating cycle time and return rate distributions for returnable transport items." International Journal of Production Research 54, no. 14 (2016): 4356-4367.

DOI for the article