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RFID Saves Contractor $12,000 in First Month

An internal RFID materials management system helps Vulcan Painters keep track of its inventory and reduce paint that must be discarded because it has spoiled. The large commercial painting firm reported it saved more than $12,000 in materials the first month the system was used.
Mar 19, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 19, 2008—Vulcan Painters, a large commercial painting contractor in Bessemer, Alabama, credits its new RFID materials tracking system with saving $12,000 in its first month of use. The company applies metal-mount RFID tags to paint cans and other supplies to track what is issued to job sites and returned to storage. RFID tracking has improved inventory accuracy, reduced misplaced and unaccounted for materials, and reduced losses from expired paint.

"Vulcan didn't know what they had on hand. Inventory was expiring because Vulcan didn't know they had it. Now they know not only exactly what they have, but where it all is," Shane Armstrong, operations manager at Atlas RFID Solutions, told RFID Update. Atlas developed and integrated the materials management system, which features Gen2 RFID tags and readers plus tracking software that integrates with Vulcan's legacy systems.

Project managers check out the materials they need for a job using a handheld computer with integrated RFID reader at Vulcan's facility, which dispatches materials for projects in several states. Paint, solvents, cleaners, sand blasting materials, and other supplies are tagged, but low-cost items such as disposable gloves are not. An application Atlas developed for the handheld assigns the supplies to the project manager and specific job in the central records system. When workers enter and leave the facility they pass through an RFID portal reader, which automatically records tagged objects. The system issues an exception notice if the portal reader detects items that have not been assigned to project managers.

When workers return items to storage, they scan them with a handheld RFID reader and enter the storage bin location. The system keeps inventory up-to-date and allows Vulcan to search inventory by expiration date, brand, color, and other criteria.

"The first month alone we realized $12,000 in saved material costs," Rob Post, Vulcan's operations manager, said in Atlas' announcement. "If we had had to buy those materials, we would have paid an additional $2,000 to dispose of the containers. Cutting costs, reducing waste, and tracking our inventory are all important to Vulcan's initiative to go green."

Paint and solvents are challenging to identify with RFID because the liquid products are usually contained in metal packaging. Atlas tested multiple RFID inlay and material combinations before choosing a metal-mount tag with foam backing from Metalcraft that includes Alien Technology's Squiggle Gen2 inlay. Atlas also selected Motorola model MC9090G handheld readers, and portals developed by Venture Research that use RFID readers from Omron.

Vulcan has applied tags to 1,000 items and recently ordered 1,000 more tags. RFID is not used to track materials at job sites, only as they exit and re-enter Vulcan's facility, according to Armstrong. He said the company has considered using RFID for asset management (such as for scaffolding, ladders, and other equipment), but has no plans to apply tags to anything but materials for now.

If Vulcan Painters did want to extend RFID tracking to the work site, the new RFID reader-equipped pickup trucks and work vans that Ford announced last month could help (see Ford Builds RFID into Pickups and Vans to Track Cargo). Both systems use standard Gen2 technology, which provides interoperability and illustrates how standardized RFID ecosystems are growing.
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