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RFID Sharpens Worker Accountability at Meat-Processing Plants

Several companies have adopted an RFID solution from German cutlery manufacturer Friedr. Dick that tracks the location of each knife, as well as the worker to whom it is assigned.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 17, 2013

When meat-processing workers enter the plant floor where meat is cut and packaged, they bring with them a batch of cutting tools that require close scrutiny. The knives and cutting devices must be frequently replaced and sharpened daily. A knife that remains in the work area after an employee leaves his or her shift, and is then reused, could contaminate the meat and require the destruction of an entire day's worth of products.

To enter a meat-processing plant's work area, an employee walks through an access station and places his toolkit next to the built-in RFID reader.

To address this problem, German cutlery manufacturer Friedr. Dick has developed a solution, known as Knifeinspector, that includes passive RFID tags built into the handles of its knives, as well as in staff ID badges. Readers can be installed at entrances and exits, cleaning and sharpening stations, or other requested locations, in order to track those tagged tools at a processing facility. The solution employs RFID interrogators supplied by Kathrein and Nordic ID, while the software was developed by Freidr. Dick in cooperation with Enso Detego. With Knifeinspector deployed, meat processors can track and trace which individuals brought which tools onto the plant floor, whether they brought all of them back at the end of the shift, and whether the knives were sharpened prior to reuse.

"We had been approached by a lot of customers seeking a simple solution to allocating a knife to a person," and then to ensure the knife was returned, sharpened and cleaned, says Steffen Uebele, Friedr. Dick's director of sales and marketing. Not only is a dull or worn-out knife dangerous to workers, but if one is left behind within the processing area, and has thus not been cleaned, that action can cause costly and dangerous contamination. In addition, many meat-processing plants suffer from shrinkage. Staff members simply may not return all of the knives they use, or may return another worker's knives, rather than their own. Over the course of a year, this can add up to a major cost for a large plant containing many knives. For meat companies, Uebele explains, "It's a huge problem to guarantee that 100 percent of tools that enter the production site leave that site," and are then properly cleaned and sharpened for reuse.

The tool-issue station, used to manage the assignment and return of knives and other tagged equipment, includes an RFID reader for identifying each item, as well as the specific worker to whom that knife is allocated.

Friedr. Dick's customers wanted each worker to be held responsible for his or her tools, thereby ensuring that every employee would be sure to bring all tools back off the floor and turn them in for cleaning and sharpening, rather than leaving them behind, allowing another staff member to use them or bringing them home.

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