Manufacturing News

Second generation RFID trial achieves 100%

MANY manufactures are familiar with the hype of RFID as a revolutionary technology that will improve operational efficiencies, cut costs and enhance business intelligence, but at this year’s SMART conference it was demonstrated how the technology could deliver this and much more.

At the Sydney conference, a multi-industry Australian consortium released results of the pilot National EPC Network Demonstrator Project Extension (NDP Extension) revealing how RFID can improve productivity, reduce delivery processing times, and open up visibility throughout the supply chain for the benefit of all trading partners.

Manufacturers Monthly spoke to three members of the consortium involved in the project to find out what the results mean for their businesses.

The pilot

Maria Palazzolo, CEO of GS1 Australia, said one of the objectives of the project was to look specifically at paperless delivery and ePOD (electronic proof of delivery). “To show businesses it is possible to remove time consuming steps from the process to help reduce costs and improve inventory management.

“Using the GS1 system incorporating EPC global standards with second generation RFID technologies, we were able to demonstrate this.”

According to Palazzolo, the ability to achieve 100% read-rates and being able to demonstrate this at the conference was a highlight of the project.

“Using Gen2 technology we were able to reach 100% read rates,” she told Manufacturers Monthly.

“Full automation was achieved, leading to a paperless environment, the elimination of human error, and the accuracy of order versus delivery verified. The concepts proven are also transferable to other supply chain items.

She said the new pilot was also able to address concerns raised about the technology such as the compatibility of EPC global standards and GS1 standards.

Delivering the goods

Murray Fane, Director of Information Systems for CHEP Asia Pacific, said the project was able to improve efficiency and accuracy for the company, with process times reduced by 49 minutes per delivery, with an additional general administration saving of two hours and 43 minutes per day at a single CHEP service centre.

“In a controlled environment, ePOD and paperless delivery simplified the workloads and improved productivity for administrative staff, drivers and other logistics staff,” Fane said.

The project was not without its challenges, with tags successfully designed for the American pallet not initially providing 100% read rates on Australian pallets, even with Gen 2 technology.

“Australian timber has different properties and the pallets are typically stored outside, which increases the moisture in the wood. These factors significantly reduced the ability of the readers to scan at 100% accuracy,” Fane explained.

“The answer came with some configuration changes to the readers and a redesign of the tag to raise it from the surface of the wood using foam. The combination of reader configuration and tag design took several weeks to perfect but the result achieved was a 100% read rate in controlled environments.”

Fane told Manufacturers Monthly that following the success of the project, the company is now in a position to undertake further development and testing.

“We’re now looking at fully integrating RFID with our existing PDA system. We also want to get 100% readings not just with pallets but also crates,” he said.

A case for RFID

MasterFoods Snackfood were one of the customers in the pilot project and Damian Ross, National Logistics Manager, said because of the success of the project in providing ways to implement leaner manufacturing, RFID is now on the agenda but stresses how important it is to establish a business case for the technology.

“Similarly to implementing any new technology or business solution you need to identify the costs of adopting the technology and examine whether it will deliver the efficiencies and benefits you want,” Ross told Manufacturers Monthly.

“A starting point for us was to have a good understanding of our ‘as is’ processes; our already implemented practices. After identifying the improvements that could be made to those processes, we then asked what technology was available to achieve these objectives and this is where RFID came in for us.”

Ross believes the adoption rate of RFID will improve when the technology’s capabilities are demonstrated.

“There will come a point in time when it will be adopted, and it is better for manufacturers to know what it can and can’t do now, rather than later,” he explained.

These sentiments were echoed by Palazzo and Fane, who both agreed companies should educate and train employees about RFID and have a well documented plan of how it will be integrated into the company’s business practices.

“Nothing makes people more comfortable than showing them the business case is well thought out, planned, executed and owned by somebody within company,” Palazzo said.

Fane said planning ahead while in pilot is also very important, and stressed manufactures shouldn’t be wary of collaborating with other companies.

“Also think about getting in an RFID expert who knows the technology and understands how to get the best out it.”

RFID into the future

The NDP Extension pilot project attracted a host of organisations including RMIT University and GS1 Australia who co-managed the project, CHEP Asia-Pacific, Franklins/Westgate Logistics, Procter & Gamble/Linfox and MasterFoods with Telstra and Retriever Communications acting as service suppliers. The pilot was supported by the Australian Government.

Palazzo said with the success of the Extension pilot, it is important to keep the momentum going with a third project, but said as a not for profit organisation, GS1 was limited to what it can do without funding.

“We want companies to be able to use this information as part of their case studies and Government funding might be able to help manufacturers implement this in their business practices,” she said.

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