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Dow Reveals a Chemical Attraction to RFID

The manufacturer of plastics, solvents and other products is harnessing RFID's power to deliver value to its business and customers.
By Bob Violino
In addition to the work Dow is doing with Savi, the company is using RFID technology to improve other processes. One example involves using a combination of RFID and bar-code technology on railcars as part of a pilot program to enable Dow workers at plants and distribution centers to determine quickly what material is contained in cars arriving at a location.

This approach, when combined with bar-code menu boards and handheld scanners capable of reading both bar codes and RFID tags, allows a logistics worker to collect data in the Dow rail yard for transactional reporting into the company's SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) and fleet-management systems. This application uses the passive 915 MHz or 2.45 MHz Automatic Equipment Identification (AEI) RFID tags that Dow and other rail shippers applied to their rail fleets in the 1990s to comply with the American Association of Railroads' requirements for car-location tracking. This is currently deployed at two Dow plants and used on about 4,000 railcars.

In another application, Dow AgroSciences has been using RFID tags in its in-ground Sentricon Termite Colony Elimination System to expedite home inspections. The Sentricon system includes a low-frequency RFID tag to allow an authorized operator to monitor traps at the Sentricon stations with an RFID reader. If termites eat into a conductive paper embedded between two monitoring devices in the Sentricon station, they create a break in the circuit, thereby activating the RFID tag. An authorized operator, detecting an activated tag, replaces the monitoring equipment in the Sentricon station with a device containing termite bait. The use of RFID tags enables operators to scan the traps more easily for termite activity at a home, and to perform more home inspections per day.

Dow is pleased with the results of all its RFID-related pilots so far, says Tolliver, and the company has seen improvements in work processes, asset utilization, inventory control, order fulfillment and other areas. Over time, Dow expects RFID systems to help the company improve labor efficiencies, data quality, supply chain visibility and reliability, safety and security, and regulatory compliance.

In December 2005, Dow Chemical announced it had joined EPCglobal US, the organization leading the development of industry standards for the Electronic Product Code (EPC) to support the commercialization of RFID. As a member of EPCglobal, Tolliver explains, Dow will contribute to the development of RFID standards and help drive increased use of the technology throughout the chemical industry supply chain. "It's important for Dow to begin shaping the evolution of the standards and technologies," Tolliver says, "and [to] help provide leadership and ideas for what the technologies can do for the chemicals industry."

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