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Australian Cotton Gin Tracks Product to Boost Efficiency

RFID tags embedded in bundles of unprocessed cotton bolls help Southern Cotton track when it receives, stores and gins those bundles, and the company then shares that data with growers.
By Claire Swedberg

When it is time to process a module, a moon buggy picks it up and delivers it to the gin, where another RFID reader captures the tag ID number, linked to details related to that module. The wrap is then removed, the field cotton is dried and cleaned to remove seed and trash, and the usable cotton is typically packed into four bales weighing approximately 227 kilograms (500 pounds) apiece. A bar-code number is attached to each bale, and the bar-code ID is linked to the data related to the module in Southern Cotton's software.

When a customer arrives to pick up the cotton bales, the bar-code numbers are scanned to verify that the correct bales have been selected. The customer can then remove the bales, and Southern Cotton can commence the billing process.

When Southern Cotton receives a delivery of modules, they are driven over a scale to determine their weight, which is then linked to the modules' ID tag numbers, captured by the scale's built-in Impinj RFID reader.
Growers can receive reports related to the weight, storage and ginning of their products, and thereby know what the weights were, the results of the ginning (how many bales of cotton were produced, for instance), and when that ginning took place. The process not only saves onsite personnel the time they would otherwise spend reading serial numbers and searching for modules, but it also prevents errors.

For the growers—typically, those with the largest volume of cotton, according to O'Callaghan—the data is also useful in helping them to analyze which fields and sections of fields are producing the most high-quality cotton.

In the meantime, O'Callaghan notes, the Murrumbidgee Valley growers are planting ever-increasing quantities of cotton. In 2011, 18,000 hectares (45,000 acres) were planted. Growers are planting 36,000 hectares (90,000 acres) this year and are expected to plant 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) in 2016.

This year, O'Callaghan says, her company is working to develop Android- and iOS-based apps that could make it possible for onsite personnel, as well as growers, to easily view data regarding the location and status of their cotton. She expects the apps will be ready for use by the next cotton-ginning season, which will begin in April 2016.

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