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German Baker's RFID Application Is Recipe for Success
Workers at Lebkuchen Schmidt are using tagged mixing kettles to make sure each batch of baked goods has the correct ingredients, in the proper amounts.
Aug 28, 2006—A 1998 RFID application that tracks industrial-sized mixing bowls as they move around the factory floor continues to run smoothly, helping Lebkuchen Schmidt delight sweets lovers with a large palette of baked goods. Based in Nuremburg, Germany, the company turns out gingerbread of all sorts, in addition to almond cookies and stolen (dry German cakes sprinkled with powdered sugar).
Rainer Schmucker, an engineer specializing in food production, led the implementation project nearly eight years ago. He has continued his work as the manager responsible for the company's entire production process—from the mixing of various doughs and baking of breads, to the cooling and packaging of these goods. At present, RFID is used only in the mixing process—not for tracking racks of cooled goods or finished goods—though the company has considered expanding the system.
With the help of systems integrator Hermos Informatik, Lebkuchen Schmidt attached 15 transponders to the sides of stainless-steel mixing kettles, though a total of 20 transponders were ultimately used. Workers then pushed kettles on wheels from mixing station to mixing station.
Glass-covered cylindrical 134.2 kHz transponders, 3.85 millimeters wide and 32 millimeters long and made by Texas Instruments, are sealed inside round, white plastic casings 10 centimeters in diameter. The casings keep out dust and grit from the factory line, while keeping transponders dry when kettles are put through their daily high-pressure washing.
At the start of the production cycle, each transponder's unique identification code is matched in the system with the batch's recipe. One worker accompanies each batch from beginning to end, visiting up to eight stations (equipped with a total of eight readers). At each stop, a mounted RFID interrogator (reader) reads the transponder automatically, within a range of 20 to 30 centimeters. The readers, specially designed by Hermos for the application, are waterproof in accordance with standards set by the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (VDI), the Association of German Engineers.
Data is processed in the system, which uses Proline software developed by Hermos. Employees receive instructions on a Siemens-made screen about how much of each ingredient to add and which mixing station to visit next. At some stations, ingredients are added by hand; at others, pre-measured ingredients are put in the mix automatically.
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