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DFA RFID-Enables Its Cheese-Processing Plants

Dairy Farmers of America, the U.S. dairy cooperative that produces and markets Borden, Breakstone's and other products, is running an RFID system to manage and track the tagging of cheese shipments and product promotions remotely.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 25, 2006Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the largest dairy cooperative in the United States, has implemented an automated, end-to-end RFID system at its two cheese-processing plants. DFA is using the system to apply RFID tags automatically to cases in compliance with Wal-Mart's mandate, as well as to prepare for an eventual larger-scale RFID implementation. Wal-Mart reaffirmed at EPCglobal late week that it will have 1,000 RFID-enabled stores and distribution centers by early next year (see Launch and Learn, Say Early Adopters).

"Because of the Wal-Mart initiative, we started evaluating RFID integrators and software providers," says, Bob Tiede, DFA's IS director. The cooperative was looking for a solution it could manage from a remote location. DFA's data center is located in Springfield, Mo., while the two cheese-processing plants are in Plymouth, Wisc., and Zumbrota, Minn.

Marc Osofsky
DFA produces and markets dairy products made from milk supplied by 20,000 dairy farmers throughout the United States. Much of the farmers' output goes directly into bottled milk, while the rest is delivered to plants that manufacture cheese, butter or other dairy products. The cooperative accounts for 34 percent of U.S. milk production, supplying cheese, butter and other dairy products through such brands as Borden, Breakstone's and Hotel Bar.

Wal-Mart's request that DFA tag its shipments of cheese products prompted the company to deploy the RFID system. In December, Tiede says, the Plymouth plant installed the system on a limited basis. Rush Tracking Systems provided the solution, which utilizes OATSystems Tag@source software. Rush Tracking Systems selected and tested the hardware in its own laboratory. "We then brought in DFA's team for daylong training in our facility," says Toby Rush, president of Rush Tracking Systems. "They were looking for a strong system with low operating costs."

"OATSystems has a tremendous amount of experience doing this," says Marc Osofsky, VP of product management and marketing at OATSystems. The OAT Tag@source software system has been available for about two years, he says, and has processed more than 12 million RFID reads across the company's customer base in that time.

"Rush helped us decide what equipment we needed, trained us on the technology, built the initial scenarios and helped us all the way through," Tiede says. Until December 2005, when the RFID system became operational, the plants had used bar coding to track cases as they traveled through the supply chain.

The new implementation includes Printronix RFID label applicators, Symbol Technology readers and an Opto 22 automation system that acts as the programmable logic controller (PLC). DFA keeps its servers and support personnel in its Springfield office connected to the RFID reader data via a wide area network (WAN) connection.

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