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ThyssenKrupp to Expand RFID Steel Tracking

German-based steel producer ThyssenKrupp successfully piloted an RFID system to track slabs produced in Brazil and shipped to a facility in Germany. The company announced it will continue the RFID tracking and expand it to a new mill currently under construction in Brazil.
Jun 06, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

June 6, 2007—Steel producer ThyssenKrupp Steel is incorporating RFID technology and processes in a new Brazilian mill it is building following a successful pilot project. Sybase iAnywhere announced its RFID Anywhere infrastructure software will be installed to track steel shipments from ThyssenKrupp's new mill under construction in Sepetiba, Brazil. ThyssenKrupp plans to open the mill in 2009 and produce five million metric tons of steel there annually. RFID Update spoke with Martyn Mallick, director of RFID technologies at Sybase iAnywhere, about the initiative.

Sybase iAnywhere and consulting firm Accenture worked with ThyssenKrupp to develop an RFID tracking system for steel slabs, which ThyssenKrupp currently produces in Brazil and exports to Germany. The companies completed a successful pilot that featured UHF smart labels to identify 1,000 steel slabs at ThyssenKrupp facilities and ports in Brazil and Germany. The system remained in place after the pilot concluded, and the application will be expanded with additional read points when the new facility comes online.

"ThyssenKrupp has very tight unloading times at ports -- they only have about three minutes to identify and unload each slab," explained iAnywhere's Mallick. "The benefits they received from the RFID pilot were time savings and reduced labor."

Slabs were previously marked with human-readable text for identification. Manual identification is slow, and bar coding was ruled out because of readability concerns. Slabs are often stored outside, where the direct sunlight plus ice and snow make reliable bar code reading difficult.

These conditions posed no challenge for UHF RFID technology, and neither did ThyssenKrupp's three-meter read range requirement. But the company faced other challenges, notably potential interference from the steel slabs and from the electromagnetic cranes used to move them.

ThyssenKrupp reads its tagged slabs using a combination of handheld computers from Psion Teklogix and crane-mounted readers from Alien Technology. The tags are encoded in the EPC Gen2 UHF protocol and produced on modified smart label material with SATO printer/encoders. The tags are read during the unloading process to quickly identify the slabs.

The RFID Anywhere software is used to manage the readers and printer/encoders and to manage RFID data flow between devices and ThyssenKrupp's enterprise applications. The software provides a central data repository and provides formatted, processed data to ThyssenKrupp's yard management system and database applications.

"ThyssenKrupp was very concerned about the suitability of RFID for this project," said Mallick. "Based on the successful outcome, they are looking at various internal supply chain applications, including outbound shipment verification and automating conveyor systems."

"The solution ... enables us to significantly shorten unloading times and thereby achieve cost savings, " ThyssenKrupp's project manager Gerhard Thiel is quoted in Sybase iAnywhere's release.

Last month, Toshiba detailed how RFID helped streamline its receiving processes at a distribution center in Germany (see Toshiba Boasts Strong ROI for Large RFID System).

Also last month, research firm Frost & Sullivan issued a report that noted the increasing need for RFID middleware in Europe, predicting strong growth in adoption.
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