RedPrairie Sees RFID Forest for the Trees

As the RFID implementation pace quickens, the race will be won by the fast and the nimble.

One fast and nimble player is RedPrairie, Waukesha, Wis., a founder of the RFID Center of Excellence. In the last few months, the company has developed four RFID initiatives:

  1. “Bolt-on” RFID
  2. EPC compliance
  3. An RFID laboratory
  4. RFID-enabled supply chain execution consisting of a range of RFID functionality such as compliance, auto-receipt, work-in- progress production support, putaway and replenishment, picking, cycle counting, pallet and case labeling, case-pallet aggregation, Advance Shipping Notices, and shipment documentation creation.

Most recently RedPrairie has integrated its RFID compliance application with a new RFID printer-applicator from Weber Marking Systems Inc. This solution incorporates Zebra Technology’s OEM print engine, which is able to encode the RFID chip, print the label, and reject bad tags.

“The integrated solution is designed to automate and increase the execution speed of two operations: production line application and ‘slap and ship’ in distribution centers,” according to RedPrairie.

In a production line, RedPrairie’s RFID Igniter or RFID Accelerator compliance systems provide EPC codes and product information to the Zebra OEM print engine for encoding on the RFID chip and printing on the smart label. The encoded labels are then applied to the appropriate carton as it travels down the production line.

Sensing Improper Labels

RedPrairie’s print-apply system is able to automatically sense improperly encoded smart labels. The RedPrairie automation solution accomplishes this in two ways, according to David Matthias, RedPrairie’s RFID project manager.

“Initially the RFID applicator or printer will try to read an existing RFID smart label, then write information, or encode, to the RFID portion of the smart label. It then tries to read the information it just encoded,” Matthias explains. “If any of these steps fail, the applicator is instructed to bypass this smart label as bad, and try to perform the same process on the next label. If the smart label passes all three steps, it is applied to the case or pallet.

“As a secondary precaution, an independent RFID reader is placed further down the conveyor line to perform an independent read of the smart label,” he adds. “If the smart label cannot be read, the case is flagged by a visual or audio signal to indicate there is a bad label, or it’s diverted to a reject conveyor lane. If rejected, the smart label needs to be removed and the case put back into the label process to receive a new smart label.” RedPrairie recently integrated its system with the Zebra OEM print engine and the Weber Model 5200RFID Printer-Applicator. This new capability is the first generation RFID OEM print engine released by Zebra. The R110PAX3 print engine incorporates UHF RFID support for Class 1 (Alien) tags. The 203-dpi, right-hand 110-mm version offers a throughput speed of 25 to 30 cases per minute.

The Weber applicator allows non-functioning RFID labels to be skipped, which saves rework costs. This initial entry offers an upgrade path to next-generation RFID technologies, and offers “solid investment protection for a company’s RFID initiatives,” says Matthias. “By incorporating the OEM engine, Weber offers a robust production-ready solution that is able to handle production duty cycles.”

How are the labels read at a receiving or shipping dock? “An encoded label or inlay contains information that can be retrieved through any device that is, or contains, an RFID reader,” explains Royanna Chappell, RedPrairie’s vice president of product marketing. “Some receiving operations have fixed readers or handheld readers. A fixed reader can be a dock door portal, an overhead portal, or a fixed station where product is taken if it contains RFID tags. Many operations are investigating placing the readers on a forklift and other materials handling equipment.”

Because technology is changing rapidly, and each provider addresses different challenges in the market—in some cases collaborating among themselves to bring higher quality solutions to the marketplace—RedPrairie works with multiple hardware providers.

According to Chappell, as RFID technology progresses, the marketplace will require an encode/print/apply application to meet the following requirements:

  1. The tag needs to be validated before encoding to ensure the printer started with a good tag from the manufacturer.
  2. As the number of SKUs required to be tagged increases, operations will need to move to a more automated approach in applying tags to the SKUs. A manual approach will be too labor-intensive and limit the number of labels that can be applied within a given timeframe.
  3. Finally, as tagging solutions move to manufacturing, there will be additional requirements to automate the tagging activity into the production line. This approach can support those activities by validating tags and applying them as each case, box, or product passes a given step in the production process.

Is your company struggling with RFID implementation? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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