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Pacific Cycle Integrates RFID Data

The nation's largest bicycle manufacturer is moving its RFID deployment from the slap-and-ship stage to one that links RFID with its enterprise applications.
By Claire Swedberg
May 23, 2005Bicycle manufacturer Pacific Cycle is moving its RFID deployment from the slap-and-ship stage to a system that is fully integrated with its enterprise applications.

Pacific Cycle, the nation's largest bicycle manufacturer, markets such bicycle brands as Schwinn, Mongoose and GT and also makes tricycles and strollers. In June, the company deployed radio frequency identification system (see Bike Maker Rolls Out RFID) in response to Wal-Mart's mandate that its suppliers place Electronic Product Code (EPC) RFID tags on cases and pallets shipped to the retailer. But Pacific Cycle's RFID system was not connected to its inventory software.

Edwin Matthews
"We were reading the tags off-line," says Edwin Matthews, director of integrated systems for Pacific Cycle, which is based in Madison, Wisc. "Now we've brought in SAP [software], bringing [shipment data] through the portal and posting back into SAP." That means the RFID data is passed on to the company's inventory software and database and office personnel have immediate access to warehouse shipping data.

To provide itself with greater inventory visibility, Pacific Cycle is deploying SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure, a component of NetWeaver that collects RFID data, filters it, and integrates it with existing SAP enterprise applications. The company went live with the program on Mar. 31 in its Olney, Ill., distribution center, and intends to have its Vacaville, Calif., distribution center online within the next few weeks.

For its original RFID deployment, Pacific Cycle installed readers in its two distribution centers, but the RFID system was not integrated with the company's SAP inventory system, so RFID data was not sent back to the company's SAP system. "We couldn't tie the RFID tags to a sales order or delivery. There was no tie whatsoever," Matthews says. "We would create the tags, slap them on the box. Nothing was integrated," Matthews says.

Now, when a customer such as Wal-Mart orders a shipment of bicycles from Pacific Cycle, the purchase order is sent directly to SAP's Auto-ID Infrastructure middleware, which sends the request to the distribution center. There, a warehouse worker loads the ordered products onto a truck at the loading dock. Just prior to entering the truck, the products are scanned by RFID readers. That information goes directly to the SAP middleware, which forwards the data directly to the customer so that the customer can review the advance shipment notification. Pacific Cycle can also track movement of the shipment all the way to the retail shelf.

Auto-ID Infrastructure middleware also helps eliminate shipment errors, according to Amar Singh, vice president for global RFID at SAP. As a warehouse operator loads a truck with a specific shipment, the RFID reader, integrated with the SAP system, will track what items of a particular shipment have been loaded, and will alert the operator if a wrong item has been loaded, extra items have been loaded, or items are missing. "It picks up potential errors," Singh says.

After the truck is loaded, a flag will appear on the screen and operators will know what items are missing or misloaded. The system also works with RFID readers installed alongside a conveyor belt at the loading dock, Singh says, and will stop the conveyor belt and illuminate a red light if an item passes the reader that is not part of a particular order.

In the near future, Matthews indicates, Pacific Cycle plans to extend the RFID label application to its manufacturing plant in China. "We've begun some testing to see how the tags make it across," Matthews says. The company has sent RFID tags to its manufacturing center in China to be affixed to cartons. Pacific Cycle will then test the tags as they arrive. There still may be more than six months, however, before the company can fully implement RFID tagging overseas. "China has to agree on a standard," Matthews says. If China does not adopt the EPC Class 1 standard that Pacific Cycle and Wal-Mart use, Matthews says, the bike maker "will have to apply those tags in the U.S."
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