Archive for the ‘supply chain’ Category

Korean steelmaker to tag all products it produces; solution builds off worker safety program

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

There are two interesting aspects to today’s news from UPM RFID that its RFID tags will be used to track more than two million steel components made each year by Korea-based POSCO. For starters, there is a quick scale to this project. Currently, the company is using RFID to identify coil products manufactured at its Kwangyang and Pohang plants in Korea for a small group of 17 customers. But starting in October, POSCO will tag all of the items it produces – more than two million.

In this case, return on investment might be the reason for such a quick ramp-up. POSCO says that the solution has reduced costs by $1.4 million (U.S.) per month.

The other interesting aspect is that the automated RFID-based solution, which is designed to improve the accuracy and efficiency of key operational processes, is being backed by funding from the Korean government as part of the nation’s drive to become a leader in the field of ubiquitous sensor networks.

The Korean government has already jump-started RFID tagging in the pharmaceutical industry by mandating that 50 percent of the drugs sold in that country carry RFID tags within five years.

POSCO, one of the world’s largest steelmakers, has implemented a proprietary RFID-based logistics solution that relies on custom UPM DogBone™ UHF RFID tags to track and trace multi-ton metal coil products from the manufacturing process through customer delivery.

Implementing RFID technology in steel mills poses unique challenges, as the pervasive metal environment interferes with RF signal readability. POSCO used its experience implementing an RFID-based worker safety program in 2009 to design its own logistics system and ensure it integrated seamlessly with its existing manufacturing systems.

The company is using modified UPM DogBone™ UHF tags that have two antennas and are applied upright inside heavy metal coils tags as flag tags, perpendicularly to the items’ curved surfaces. Positioning the tags thus solves the problem of readability, while enabling POSCO to capitalize on UPM DogBone™ paper-based tags’ superior performance and cost-effectiveness for large-scale inventory deployments.

Metal coils are tagged during the packaging process, and items are read when they are moved by cranes to the warehouse, during storage and again when they are readied for shipment.?POSCO’s RFID system is comprised of UPM DogBone™ UHF tags, hand-held industrial PDAs, fixed RFID readers placed attached to cranes and placed at factory gates, enterprise resource planning and manufacturing execution systems and a server.

Because the RFID system integrates with customers’ own planning solutions via the Internet, they can access real-time information on POSCO products, using data to plan and fine-tune their own production operations.

By implementing the RFID-based logistics system, POSCO has automated the inspection, packaging and shipping of its metal coil products. In addition to providing complete traceability of company products, the RFID system has decreased packaging and shipping errors and improved customer satisfaction.

Prosthetics market represents a multi-million tag market for RFID

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Research is evolving rapidly when it comes to using RFID technology in the medical and healthcare community. This week, researchers from the University of Cincinnati unveiled the results of their research about using RFID in the internal hospital supply chain. The data shows that hospitals can save at least 18 percent in labor costs by utilizing RFID to simplify manual re-stocking tasks.

And researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have developed a system that will soon allow RFID tags to be embedded on prosthetics like replacement knees and hips to provide better tracking of product recalls, infections, and routine follow-up exams.

While item level tagging at the retail level is exploding, the opportunities on the horizon in healthcare could thrust the technology to ubiquitous status in the medical and hospital environments.

The healthcare sector is expected to see dramatic growth when it comes to the use of RFID. While global shipments of RFID transponders in healthcare totaled 113 million units in 2010, that number is expected to climb to 185 million units this year. By 2015, VDC Research expects that the healthcare market will consume 884 million RFID tags, representing annual growth of just over 50 percent. It’s important to note that healthcare does not include pharmaceutical goods, another sector experiencing rapid growth.

As for the tagging of medical implants, University of Pittsburgh researchers predict that several million tags could be used in two to three years. Nearly 750,000 Americans have knee or hip replacement surgery each year, an indication of how big the global market is for tagging medical implants. Dr. Marlin Mickle, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and one of the researchers in charge of developing the RFID readers to be used with the tags, says that the RFID implant system could be up and running by the end of the year. First, it must gain FDA approval, a process that could take six months.

“Tagging of implantable medical devices can provide tremendous value to the manufacturer, healthcare professionals and patients, especially when integrated with sensor technology,” says Drew Nathanson, director of research operations at VDC Research. “Leading uses include identification of the device and the healthcare professionals who installed it and maintained it, and device and patient health. We are only at the beginning … there is significant potential in this market.”

The technology developed at the University of Pittsburgh uses human tissue instead of air as a conduit for radio waves. The noninvasive system, known as Ortho-Tag, features a wireless chip attached to the implant and a handheld reader that would allow physicians to view critical information about artificial knees, hips, and other internal prosthetics — as well as the condition of the surrounding tissue — that currently can be difficult to track.

The RFID tag would have information about the patient, the implant, and the procedure uploaded to it prior to an operation, says New Jersey-based orthopedic surgeon Lee Berger, the CEO of Ortho-Tag, Inc., and inventor of the tagged implant. In addition, sensors within the chip would gauge the pressure on the implant, the chemical balance and temperature of the tissue, and the presence of harmful organisms, which would allow potential infections to be treated before they become serious.

Infection control and prevention is likely to be the first and largest ROI area when the system is put in place. “The biggest problem with failures are the ones that become infected because that turns into a six-figure problem for the hospital,” says Mickle. “The hospital has to take it out and there is a lot of patient discomfort, so that is likely to be the first place where the benefit shows up.”

Berger says that the Ortho-Tag will likely be attached to implants by device manufacturers. He is currently negotiating with three implant manufacturers. Ortho-Tag would distribute the software and probe to physicians. For people with existing orthopedic devices, the company is considering producing wallet-sized cards with an affixed RFID tag uploaded with information about the patient and the implant, Mickle said.

“There has to be accountability for objects implanted in the body, and we hope that this technology will finally make orthopedic devices much easier to monitor and, thus, safer for patients,” says Mickle.

The University of Cincinnati analysis of hospital supply chains — how hospitals stock nursing stations with hundreds of medicines, materials and even office supplies — reveals that RFID could improve efficiencies by 18 percent.

The research, to be presented on June 22 at the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science Healthcare Conference in Montreal, has implications for affecting the significant costs associated with hospital supplies. On average, the study says that supplies and inventory account for 30 to 40 percent of an average hospital’s budget.

Using RFID in re-stocking procedures could also result in an average 38 percent reduction in the need for out-of-cycle replenishment, or “we need it now” emergencies, which are costly in terms of labor and time usage by employees, not to mention a potential risk for patients.

“Hospitals want to hit the right balance of sufficient, but not too many supplies,” says Claudia Rosales, a recently graduated doctoral student in quantitative analysis now at Michigan State University. “Keeping unnecessary levels of inventory can increase costs significantly. But lack of sufficient inventory may hinder patient care and disrupt nursing activities. So, there’s a cost associated with that too.”


University of Dayton RFID research spawns temperature sensing solution

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Academic research is driving new use cases in the RFID sector. Already this month RFID 24-7 has reported on research initiatives out of the University of Cincinnati and the University of Pittsburgh that are destined to revolutionize the healthcare industry.

Now, the University of Dayton Research Institute is in the spotlight. The school, long a pioneer in RFID research, says that American Thermal Instruments of Moraine, Ohio, has licensed University of Dayton Research Institute researcher Bob Kauffman’s SMART technology to develop and manufacture monitors that will report unsafe temperature changes in products ranging from perishable items like fruit to train wheels while they are in transit.

Utilizing the SMART (Status and Motion Activated Radiofrequency Tag) system, monitors for perishable items such as food and medicine will be located in shipping containers for transport from production facility to distribution center to store shelf. Similarly, monitors for transportation applications will be attached to components whose controlled temperature is critical to the integrity of the vehicle.

A handheld scanner can be used at checkpoints along the way to quickly and easily check for temperature issues without having to open packaging. According to the University of Dayton web site, the RFID system could be on the market within 18 months, if not sooner. The company has already signed clients from the restaurant and transportation industries to use the temperature monitors.

“Temperature changes affect the taste, freshness, appearance and viability of food products,” says ATI president Randall Lane. “Every hour that a case of lettuce spends in temperatures that are too high means one less day of shelf life, which is significant for a produce company that ships more than seven million cases a year.

“But there are also instances where unsafe temperature fluctuations cause more than just expensive waste. They can be dangerous. For example, we monitor heart stents, which are made of metal. If a stent gets too hot in transit, it won’t open up and work properly once it’s been implanted. A case of vaccines worth millions of dollars can be rendered useless if they’re allowed to warm up for even a brief period of time.”

Omnitrol solution delivers food traceability for Firstlight Foods

Friday, April 29th, 2011

New Zealand-based Firstlight Foods knows that its customers want to know where and how their beef was produced, and how fresh it is when it arrives at the marketplace.

Through a partnership with Omnitrol and RFID systems integrator Trident RFID, Firstlight now has those checks and balances in place. Firstlight, which processes and sells high quality beef products to retailers like Whole Foods in the U.S., will rely on an Omnitrol solution that enables real-time manufacturing visibility and item-level tracking in food, meat and beverage traceability across global supply chains.

The solution will enable Firstlight Foods to automatically track venison and beef production and to accurately generate electronic meat pedigree records enabling field-to-fork traceability.

“We have successfully worked with Omnitrol in the past in delivering food traceability, so when Firstlight Foods called on us for meat traceability, we knew Omnitrol would have an answer,” says D’Arcy Quinn, Chairman of Trident RFID. “The Omnitrol platform is the industry’s most versatile solution and the easiest to deploy and scale with RFID readers at the Firstlight site. With reliable real-time tracking data, Firstlight will be able to improve their processes, reduce product damage, and automatically generate electronic records for pedigree compliancy in their meat production plants.”


NY Times: Improved global supply chain visibility helps firms to better deal with crisis in Japan

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

The unfortunate disaster in Japan is serving as a major test for the global supply chain. As the world’s third largest economy, Japan produces millions of parts for the electronics, automotive and computer industries. Lots of that production is on hold following this month’s earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis.

It’ still too early to gauge how supply chains around the world will be impacted by the ongoing crisis, but an article in the New York Times over the weekend provides some outstanding insight into how companies are dealing with potential supply shortages.

The article credits RFID and other technologies as providing much greater supply chain visibility than in previous supply chain disruptions:

From the article:

The ability to manage these complex networks, experts say, has become possible because of technology — Internet communications, RFID tags and sensors attached to valued parts, and sophisticated software for tracking and orchestrating the flow of goods worldwide.

That geographic and technological evolution, in theory, should make adapting to the disaster in Japan easier for corporate supply chains.

Click here to read the full New York Times article.

RFID makes major inroads into supply chain, healthcare and financial sectors

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

In case you missed Wednesday’s issue of RFID 24-7, here is our lead story.

There is major traction for item level RFID in the retail environment, but several other industries are also seeing rapid adoption. That’s been evident by the RFID-enabled hygiene systems being unveiled at this week’s annual conference hosted by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

In addition, there’s a big story unfolding in Europe, where Confidex has filled an order for 3.5 million tags for Container Centralen to use in tracking floral deliveries. The deal is the largest UHF RFID tag implementation for returnable transit items in the world, and is also the largest purchase order of EPC Gen2 specialty tags ever.

Lastly, keep an eye out for greater use of RFID in financial circles, including tagging bundles of cash. The recent publicity RFID gained in the theft of RFID-tagged poker chips from a Las Vegas casino has put more focus on how RFID could help to track large amounts of cash — from casinos, to armored cars and banks, to the large amounts of money moved by retailers like Walmart.

The European Central Bank has been using bar codes to help track large bundles of cash for several years. Recently, it began to look into using RFID. Central banks in the U.S. are also looking at the technology. Although the U.S. is far behind its European counterparts, the idea of using RFID to track and trace hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash is intriguing and makes sense.

Just as the healthcare industry is using RFID to track assets worth a quarter million or more, it makes sense to tag cash for the same reasons. Aside from providing visibility into the movement of money, such a solution would also guard against theft and counterfeiting and would assist in providing more accurate cash counts for banks, retailers and others.

“There has been a very aggressive effort with the banks in Europe to take those same [bar code] practices and add RFID where appropriate,” says Sue Hutchinson, director of industry adoption at EPCglobal. “When you think about retailers like Walmart and casinos and all of the other places on the planet that have to manage cash, RFID will be an interesting initiative. It’s in the very early stages here in the U.S. and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Another recent deployment playing out in Europe is the tagging of a fleet of 3.5 million containers used to transport floral goods throughout Europe. The tracking system went live last month, with special UHF Gen2 RFID tags from Confidex being used for Container Centralen’s full scale RFID rollout called “Operation Chip It.” Confidex developed and delivered tags to IBM Denmark, which are used as an electronic seal by Container Centralen. The tag has been in development for over two years.

The new tag brings unprecedented transparency to the supply chain and improves overall quality of the CC container pool by reducing the risk of counterfeit containers working their way into the pool. Confidex developed the electronic RFID “e-seal” which securely authenticates the origin of the CC Container. The anti-tampering feature was achieved without compromising the small tag size and the read performance requirements of logistics operations.

To be effective, such a high quantity of tags also had to be easy to attach, without additional tools, in any conditions. The tag also needed to withstand harsh use outdoors. The e-seals are identified and verified with RFID handheld devices, supplied by NordicID and others.

Since the CC Container is also used as a retail display unit, flowers and plants can be transported directly from the grower to the consumer in the store. By eliminating the need for product handling in between, goods are less likely to get damaged and overall distribution costs are reduced.

“We’ve developed a unique total solution system for an incredibly demanding security RFID application,” says Jarkko Miettinen, vice president of new business development at Confidex.

Similar asset tracking systems are rapidly gaining acceptance in the healthcare and hospital environment, as are RFID-powered systems that track the hygiene habits of hospital personnel. So while hospitals benefit from operational gains, patients see distinct advantages as well.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that hospital acquired infections cause almost 100,000 deaths a year in the U.S. That’s why improving hand hygiene habits is so crucial. Birmingham, Ala.-based Princeton Baptist Medical Center recently registered a 22 percent reduction in healthcare associated infections by implementing Proventix’s nGage™ RFID based hand hygiene monitoring system.

The nGage system monitors hand hygiene compliance 24 hours a day, 7 days week. Healthcare workers wear badges that are uniquely recognized by control units at soap dispensers throughout the hospital. When a worker enters a room or area where there is a control unit, they are recognized and, upon the completion of a quality hand hygiene event, they are given important, patient-specific information (such as “the patient is at risk for a fall”), general employee information, or employee-specific information. The messaging creates incentives for healthcare workers at the point of care, improves workflow and creates opportunities for efficiencies while enhancing patient safety and quality of care.

“The information gathered in these case studies will help the industry understand how valuable health IT as a tool can be to improving patient safety and quality,” said David A. Collins, the director of healthcare information systems at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. “By sharing notable quality improvement outcomes, we hope these innovative examples will serve as guidance to others for improved healthcare delivery and demonstrate the benefits of health IT adoption.”

RFID TagSource inks R&D agreement with FAA; high-memory tags take off in aviation apps

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

RFID TagSource has signed a cooperative research and development agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration that allows the firm to use the FAA’s laboratory facilities and resources at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey.

The collaborative research will eventually help to enhance flight safety and maintenance operations by storing maintenance history information directly on aircraft parts by using RFID TagSource’s new high memory passive RFID tag. The AeroTag, unveiled in November, stores information on a small chip that tracks the pedigree of flight certified parts and improves inspection operations.

The FAA agreement is an indication of the capabilities that RFID TagSource has developed for RFID in aerospace and defense. Last year RFID TagSource worked with Boeing on the Air Force ARAI program where specially designed RFID tags were attached to an Air Force F-16 and tested at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

“This work supports the mission of the aerospace industry to continually improve flight safety and operational efficiency,” said Kevin Donahue, managing director at RFID TagSource. “The resources available to us at the FAA Technical Center have really helped speed up our development efforts. This is a fantastic opportunity and exciting time for our company.”

RFID TagSource is a tag supplier for the Airbus A350, which is currently under development. Airbus is requiring that most parts be tagged with RFID tags. Airbus expects that up to 3,000 aircraft parts will be tagged on each plane, with 2,000 of these tags being high memory tags carrying 4 kilobytes or more of storage.

“The Airbus program is very real and it’s very far along,” said Donahue. “They are actually in the process of having [RFID tagged] parts delivered.”

Airbus will use the RFID tags to maintain maintenance records and parts history. When it comes time to check the history of part, maintenance personnel can rely on a hand-held RFID reader to obtain the full history of an A350 part. Donahue says that the Airbus requirement for read performance using a handheld unit is a minimum 20 inches globally, but that RFID TagSource is exceeding that requirement, in some cases reaching 24 inches or more.

While Airbus will use up to 3,000 RFID tags per plane, actual tag consumption will likely be up to 10 times that number for each plane, as all spare parts stored at global distribution centers and warehouses will also carry tags.

In November, RFID TagSource announced the development of the AeroTag family of high memory passive RFID tags, developed within the guidelines put forth by the Air Transport Association (ATA). The tags meet ATA Spec2000 and SAE-AS5678 specifications. With 4 kilobytes of memory and a lightweight rugged design, the tags are particularly well suited for manufacturers supporting the Airbus A350 XWB RFID initiative.

“The AeroTag has been designed to address an identified need for storing maintenance history information directly on aircraft parts,” said Donahue. “There are a number of initiatives underway in the aerospace industry that cannot be supported using generally available lower memory tags. The combination of our new high memory and our partner’s lower memory offerings has RFID TagSource uniquely positioned to serve the broad set of needs for RFID technologies across the aerospace and defense industry.”

Click here to view RFID 24-7′s previous coverage on RFID and aerospace.

The new AeroTag product line features integrated circuits from Tego, a provider of high memory passive RFID chip solutions that meet the ATA Spec2000 spec. AeroTags outfitted with Tego silicon can be configured to store up to 32 kilobytes of data.

Last year RFID 24-7 reported that the airline industry could consume hundreds of thousands of high memory RFID tags within 12 to 18 months, possibly reaching the millions depending on the applications and use cases that manufacturers adopt.

“Right now we have just the specific applications for flyable tags but there are additional applications that companies are looking to expand into,” Tego CEO Tim Butler told RFID 24-7. “Going forward, we think the projections that call for the industry to use many millions of tags over the next three to five years is a very viable estimate.”

Impinj RFID solution helps French jewelry chain CLEOR improve inventory accuracy

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

RFID is proving to be a gem of a solution for French jeweler CLEOR, which has implemented RFID to improve its supply chain and all facets of its retail operations. The system powered by Impinj is in place throughout its 50 stores, which move nearly one million pieces of jewelry a year. The extremely scalable project took just eight months from tag selection to deployment in the first 10 stores.

The chain-wide “Powered by Impinj” RFID solution has significantly improved inventory accuracy and supply chain efficiency.  Since implementing RFID, the company has benefitted from reduced out-of-stocks, decreased stock levels, lower operating costs and measurably increased sales volume. Specifically, an inventory control process that used to require four days now requires only four hours and reduces damage by eliminating physical handling of jewelry.

“System integrators once viewed jewelry as difficult to tag with RFID, but Frequentiel and Tageos have overcome the challenges typical of reading small metal objects to deliver an elegant solution for CLEOR,” said Scot Stelter, senior director of marketing at Impinj, Inc. “We expect this market will grow rapidly now that our partners have demonstrated a solution with compelling ROI.”

The RFID solution developed by Frequentiel, a systems integrator, and Tageos, a manufacturer of RFID labels and antennas, employs multiple read points throughout the supply chain including:

  • Shipment Receiving: Impinj Speedway® Revolution readers with Tageos Cube antennas read incoming bags, each containing 100 pieces of RFID tagged jewelry.  The automated shipment receiving process dramatically reduces time spent inspecting jewelry at the DC/warehouse, resulting in considerable cost savings and increased inventory accuracy.
  • Delivery Verification: Store employees verify receipt of jewelry packed in small plastic bags using Speedway Revolution readers and Tageos mat antennas.  The RFID solution decreases time spent verifying stock delivery and increases store inventory accuracy.
  • On-Shelf Inventory: Employees use handheld readers based on Impinj Indy® reader chips and Tageos paddle antennas to frequently inventory items on store shelves in only four hours.

Click here to review a case study outlining the challenges faced and solutions created by Frequentiel, Tageos and Impinj.

West coast retailer will debut active RFID-enabled credit cards; Invengo raises $123M U.S.

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Just returned from the MIT Enterprise Forum’s meeting on the Dash 7 Alliance. Very interesting stuff coming out of this group! Jayant Ramchandani, COO of Novitaz, delivered the most intriguing address about the progress his firm is making in rolling out proprietary RFID hardware including the first-ever, credit-card-sized active RFID tag readable at ranges of greater than 20 feet when placed in a wallet.

A West Coast retailer will begin piloting the technology at several stores in California in early 2011. The software will yield a customized suite of unique customer-centric, loyalty-based solutions. In a nutshell, once a consumer enters a retail outlet, the RFID-enabled credit card will trigger communication with the store. The store will message the shopper about specific sales and promotions. More information on this in the coming days!

By the way, Invengo announced late today that it has secured a nice chuck of funding (817.7 million yuan, or just over $123M U.S.) to accelerate five specific projects including “chip design and commercialization of Internet-Of-Things, RFID handhelds, a management system for RFID-based railway vehicle parts, research and development into an automated library system and tracking devices for trains.” Very interesting apps – we’ll try to bring you more details on them over the next few days.

The funding is through a private placement of not more than 34 million shares at 24.72 yuan per share. The newly offered shares cannot be traded for 12 months.

Last spring, Invengo has signed a contract with USA ID, a division of consumer product giant Conair, to provide at least 20 million RFID labels per year. The contract represents the biggest deal yet for Invengo outside of China, and will help Conair and Invengo launch new services for apparel and garment tracking. Read RFID 24-7′s coverage here.

Re-capping a banner week for RFID technology; Item Level RFID Initiative grabs the spotlight

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Last week saw a series of high-impact events for the RFID industry. The week began with the unveiling of the Item Level RFID Initiative, an alliance between major retailers, manufacturers and associations. The goal is to start moving together as a group toward major item-level deployments in the retail sector.

The alliance includes Wal-Mart, Kohls, Macy’s, JC Penney, Dillards and others, and should provide item-level tagging with the shot in the arm it needs to become ubiquitous in retail sooner than later. (See RFID 24-7’s coverage of the announcement here.)

The announcement was the talk of the town in Chicago, where Pack Expo and the AIM Expo were held. The AIM event was well organized, well received by exhibitors, and showed promise for the future. It’s an event the auto-ID industry needs.  As AIM broke, RFID vendor Mojix announced it has completed successful tests of its STAR system at German retailer METRO. Breakthrough levels of read rate performance for passive RFID tags were achieved across multiple use cases including RFID-tagged fast moving goods and item-level tagged apparel.

And let’s not forget the incredibly cool use case that Vail Resorts has built for RFID, combined with social media tools. The technology debuted last week.

The fun doesn’t stop there. In what is usually a slow month leading up to Thanksgiving, RFID 24-7 will report on major news out of the high-memory RFID sector tomorrow. Another major announcement is on tap for next week, this one regarding a ground-breaking solution for the perishable foods industry. Stay tuned!