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Saddle Creek Expands Its RFID System
The third-party logistics provider is upgrading its use of RFID to allow customers—including many Wal-Mart suppliers—to make their services more comprehensive and cost-effective.
May 02, 2006—For the past six months, Saddle Creek has been running a test deployment of radio frequency identification, mainly because it has customers supplying Wal-Mart that need RFID capabilities. Headquartered in Lakeland, Fla., the company currently runs three RFID tagging operations at several of its distribution and warehouse facilities in Texas. Each operation contains a single conveyor line used for individual customers that need to attach RFID labels to cases they ship. These lines include both manual and automated RFID tagging.
The new initiative will be a high-capacity RFID system able to serve multiple customers simultaneously in Saddle Creek's 430,000-square-foot warehouse in Fort Worth, Texas. The new system will include application server software, RFID readers, RFID label printers and applicators, and material handling equipment and controls. It will be able to print Gen 2 EPC tags to meet Wal-Mart's updated mandate. Since the implementation is a work in progress, Saddle Creek would not provide an exact timeframe for when it will be going live.
"With the expanding Wal-Mart mandate and a large number of top-200 clients, over time we will be able to consolidate compliance labeling to a single process for all customers, therefore reducing cost and overhead," says Woody Blaylock, VP of IS at Saddle Creek. "By consolidating multiple customers to a single process, we can purchase RFID tags at a better savings. We can also drive down the cost per case by driving up volume."
Saddle Creek's new RFID implementations are being built on an Xterprise Automated RFID Module (XARM) tagging system. The XARM 3000 is a conveyor-automated RFID label-applicator system that can tag between 50 and 80 cases per minute, according to Steve Hall, senior VP of global sales at Xterprise, based in Carrollton, Texas. The XARM 3000 includes all the components necessary for the implementation, including an application server, reader management software, RFID readers and RFID label printer-encoders and applicators. Most importantly, the system will be able to handle RFID requirements for more than one customer at a time, allowing Saddle Creek to run several customers' goods through it simultaneously. The system can be programmed to accommodate multiple RFID requirements and differentiate between specific vendors' goods.
The system's application server software, built on a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) software platform, can track and record the entire labeling process as cases and pallets move along conveyor systems. It can also relay that data to back-end order-processing systems. If there are any errors along the way, such as a defective tag, the system will identify the case, reject it, and automatically move it onto a rework line, Hall says.
Saddle Creek's current RFID offerings focus on enabling customers to meet Wal-Mart's RFID mandate, requiring suppliers to affix RFID labels on pallets and cases being shipped to the retailer. Blaylock, however, says Saddle Creek expects its new RFID system will also help tighten inventory controls and security, improve quality and reduce shipping errors. The company plans to roll out similar systems at its other facilities around the country. "When the demand to label in other regions occurs, we will be able to duplicate the RFID process quickly," he says, adding that RFID inquiries are standard on any new request-for-proposal Saddle Creek receives.
The distribution and logistics provider plans to offer an array of value-added RFID services. According to Blaylock, those services include the testing of tag placement on cases of product; the integration of tag data with a customer's legacy applications, such as its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software; the printing, encoding and application of RFID tags; and the automatic validation that goods have been shipped and/or received. The company will offer complete solutions allowing customers to pick and choose those services they want. "We will package these as a cafeteria-style, end-to-end RFID offering," Blaylock says. Pricing will depend on the volume and complexity of the product tag placement.
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