International Paper rolls out RFID warehouse tracking: Electronic Product Code Technology used in paper-tracking application – RFID/ADC News
A lot of companies are investigating how they can leverage RFID technology in the supply chain, but most industry analysts don’t expect widespread adoption for another five years or more. Some companies, though, have gotten an early start.
One of those is International Paper (IP), Stamford, Conn., which has developed a warehouse tracking system using RFID to manage warehouse inventory.
Currently being used for tracking large paper rolls at the company’s Texarkana, Texas, bleached board mill, the system covers all stocking, storage, movement and shipping within the facility. It provides real-time inventory routing instructions and movement confirmation to forklift operators without the need for manual compliance.
IP plans to expand the system beyond roll tracking, and is marketing it to its supply chain partners.
The warehouse tracking system is based on the MIT Auto-ID Center’s Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard, using 900MHz tag and reader technology from Matrics Inc., Columbia, Md. IP was an early member of the Auto-ID Center, and it also has an eye on incorporating the EPC into packaging it provides to its consumer goods manufacturing customers.
“We knew what our internal needs were, but we wanted to develop products that transcended our four walls,” says Guillermo Gutierrez, IP’s marketing manager. Gutierrez says the company is also developing RFID-based logistics systems and is working with cosmetics customers on smart-shelf technology.
“They’re really thinking beyond their own four walls,” says Tom Coyle, vice president of supply chain solutions at Matrics. “Some of their customers might want to adopt this, which is why they followed the EPC model. If it were a closed-loop system, they wouldn’t care about that.”
The roll tracking system went live in July. Through the use of clamp-truck-mounted RFID readers and proprietary tracking technology, inventory is tracked to within 6 inches of its location, and the information is relayed to the forklift operators via mobile computers in less than one second. A principal feature of the warehouse tracking system is the elimination of RFID portals in tracking inventory movement, including shipping and receiving locations, such as rail and dock doors.
By not using portals, the system turns traditional tag tracking on its head. Coyle says that RFID tags are placed in the cores used for paper rolls. Bar code labels on the finished rolls associate the paper with the core, and readers built onto the clamp trucks read through 70 inches of paper to identify the rolls.
Additional readers on the clamp trucks use tags in the facility floor (which form a grid) to provide location data to the system as they move the rolls.
The system provides inventory visibility and accuracy and prevents errant shipments. “We can tell what paths the trucks are taking, and we can tell when the product is on the truck,” says Gutierrez. “We can analyze that information to optimize flow of materials through the warehouse.”
In addition, the system integrates with the company’s legacy enterprise systems. IP, working with a third-party software vendor, developed a warehouse tracking application and a middleware product that transfers data between the two. “We want to remain agnostic from the software side,” says Gutierrez. “We can work with various warehouse management systems out there.”
IP uses mobile computers and wireless LAN equipment from Psion Teklogix, and integrated Apriso Corp.’s warehousing and inventory applications with its RFID system.
The warehouse tracking system can also handle roll stock and pallet/case applications, and its configuration accommodates a broad range of internal and external warehouse operations. The system is designed to withstand the harsh industrial environments associated with a 24-hour mill operation and includes a self-diagnostic application. IP operates hundreds of facilities in the U.S., including mills and converting facilities. Gutierrez says the company is evaluating which locations are best suited for additional rollouts of the RFID system. The company is also developing data management tools, including an executive dashboard, so that managers can drill down into the data supplied by real-time tracking.
RELATED ARTICLE: Packaging industry prepares for RFID.
In addition to its internal RFID-based warehouse tracking system, International Paper (IP), Stamford, Conn., has also been at the forefront of research into smart packaging, and it has developed a method of embedding RFID chips into its corrugated packaging products.
IP selected SAMSys Technologies Inc., Ontario, Canada, as the primary supplier of passive RFID reader hardware.
IP’s Shorewood Packaging division sells an RFID-based product called Intellipak for real-time tracking, marketing intelligence, authenticity and brand-protection applications. The company also markets the Med-ic ECM (electronic compliance monitor), developed with Information Mediary Corp., Ontario, Canada, for tracking medication usage without active patient input. The RFID tag in the blister pack records the time at which the pill or capsule is used. The product is targeted at clinical trials, post-marketing studies and similar applications.
IP isn’t alone in the packaging industry in exploring RFID. Earlier this year, Georgia-Pacific Packaging, Atlanta, teamed with Intermec Technologies Corp., Everett, Wash., to embed read/write Intellitag RFID inserts in corrugated boxes. Georgia-Pacific already offers RFID-tagged reusable plastic containers.
Finnish RFID manufacturer Rafsec has developed an RFID tag with an antenna designed for tagging paper packaging. The Corrugated Case Tag conforms to the Auto-ID Center’s Class 1 Electronic Product Code (EPC) specification for 915MHz tags. The company is also developing an 868MHz version for European markets. The tag can be attached as a label or integrated in the packaging.
RFID has been a hot topic at recent packaging industry trade shows and conferences. Wal-Mart, International Paper, Procter & Gamble and others have made their case to paper and box manufacturers, companies that will play an increasingly important roll in implementing RFID.
“The biggest challenge outside of the technology is there are no skilled integrators,” says Guillermo Gutierrez, marketing manager at International Paper. “They’re coming to packaging suppliers. Our customers are coming to us and saying, ‘What does this mean, how can you help us?'”
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