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ThyssenKrupp to Use EPC UHF Tags to Track Steel

Having completed a pilot that tracked 1,000 slabs shipped to Germany, the company plans to deploy an RFID system at its new factory in Brazil.
By Rhea Wessel
May 14, 2007ThyssenKrupp Steel, one of the world's biggest steel companies, has completed a pilot in which it RFID-tagged 1,000 steel slabs and tracked them along their journey from their point of origin in Brazil to German factories, where they were processed.

The pilot ended successfully in January and was the basis for a decision by the Duisburg, Germany, company to tag and track 100,000 steel slabs sent to Germany each year once it opens its new plant in Sepetiba, Brazil, in 2009. In the future, the volume of tagged slabs—which range up to 12 meters in length based on customer requirements—could reach 250,000 when the application is extended to North America.

ThyssenKrupp Steel will deploy a system for RFID-tagging steel slabs.

As part of its expansion, ThyssenKrupp Steel is building the Brazilian factory, which will produce 5 million metric tons of steel per year. The company ran the pilot because it needs an automated way to identify 100,000 slabs per year as they moved through ports. The company sought quick identification so it could use its cranes at maximum capacities, says Gerhard Thiel, ThyssenKrupp's manager in charge of the project. The pilot tracked slabs that were bought from a Brazilian producer.

ThyssenKrupp Steel, its RFID integrator, Accenture, and RFID tag maker SATO used specially designed SATO FlagTag RFID labels to allow for reading despite the metallic environment. A FlagTag label has a crease so that the embedded RFID transponder does not lay flat against the object to which the paper label is attached.

Instead, the transponder is at a 90-degree angle to the object, extending like a flag perpendicular to the object. With the tag not touching the object—particularly a metallic object—its readability is improved, according to SATO. For the ThyssenKrupp project, Accenture and SATO modified the RFID label's flag size, paper and glue and modified the printer's folding mechanism so that it could fold the labels without the need to perforate them. The lack of perforations increases the flag's flexibility so that it bounces back to a 90-degree angle even if it has been laid flat for a considerable time during transport.

"We don't know of another case where a company is successfully tagging steel slabs in production," says Loic Feinbier, Accenture's RFID expert on the project.

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