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Aerospace Supplier Boosts Efficiency with RFID

American RFID Solutions has introduced a new real-time tracking system that incorporates RFID and IP video. Aerospace supplier Metal Finishing Co. has deployed the system at its facilities in Wichita.
Apr 27, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

April 27, 2009—Wichita-based Metal Finishing Co. (MFCO) has improved productivity and customer service using a new real-time tracking solution from American RFID Solutions (ARS).

The RFID TrackStar solution combines RFID, video surveillance, data collection software and 3D imaging and mapping tools that allow companies to locate assets, personnel and customer orders via a web browser or, in what the company indicates is an industry first, a mobile application that runs on Apple's iPhone.

In addition to tracking assets, the solution helps customers improve productivity and identify waste by using tracking data to identify bottlenecks and streamline production processes.

"TrackStar allows you to more effectively implement Six Sigma and lean manufacturing processes by providing the data and actionable information you need to meet those goals," said Jim Johnson, vice president at ARS.

"There's not a tracking system I've seen that is this in-depth," said Mark Brown, director of sales at ARS. "The full ROI for this system is extremely attractive and can be realized in less than one year. By providing a tremendous amount of information without any user interaction, the guys walking the concrete on the plant floor are just doing their jobs like they always have."

ARS deployed the system a year and a half ago for MFCO, which provides metal finishing services to the aerospace, agricultural and commercial industries. The company is using TrackStar to track work orders and assets (such as fork trucks) across five buildings on a ten-acre site. By attaching passive EPCglobal Gen2 RFID tags to the wire cage containers that hold their parts, as well as the paper work orders that travel with products, the company has been able to improve productivity for employees that used to spend their day searching for parts and orders throughout the facility. Now, a fraction of the labor can track orders with the TrackStar system on a part-time basis.

The system has proven so successful at MFCO that the company touts the RFID solution on its website and provides demonstrations for clients.

"The RFID TrackStar system provides support for our lean manufacturing initiatives by generating real-time tracking of products, material handling equipment, assets and work orders to deliver actionable information to improve processes," said Bob Babst, president of MFCO. "RFID TrackStar has also allowed us to provide a higher level of service to very demanding, time-sensitive clientele with stringent quality requirements. This has allowed MFCO to secure preferred vendor relationships with major OEM accounts, leading to business growth."

The tracking data is fed into ARS' data collection engine and database. By logging into the system, users can search for any tagged item using a 3D map of the facility. This makes it easy for employees to locate equipment quickly, and to update customers on the status of their order based on where the parts are in the building.

MFCO can track order progress throughout its campus, so that if an order moves from the anodizing area to the packaging or shipping department, for example, the system can report where the order is, what equipment was used to move it, and what employees handled the order. MFCO's customers will also be able to track order status online.

Although MFCO uses Gen2 passive tags, Brown says the system can work with other passive and active RFID tags and readers, as well as GPS technology. (The company is currently working with active technology providers Wavetrend and RFind.) The system also integrates live video from IP cameras so that users can see the status of orders or equipment in real time from any location.

"We have the ability to interface to any legacy system network device or auto-ID hardware," Brown said. "We treat everything like an Internet appliance."

The reporting engine, which is built on IBM's Business Intelligence Reporting Tool, can provide hundreds of different reports, allowing users to track plant productivity and efficiency, monitor RFID reader performance, and perform forensic investigations on customer orders to improve operations. Managers can see how long it takes for orders to move through a facility, and identify ways to improve process flow and workforce reallocation.

The company also offers the iSTAR Solution, an application that allows iPhone users to locate a tagged object by serial number, proximity, within a geofence, age, customer or other filtering criteria. The system can be set up to generate SMS or email alerts based on user-defined business rules.

ARS selected the iPhone to launch their mobile application because AT&T's 3G network provided enough bandwidth to support six live video feeds on one screen, but Brown says the company is developing mobile applications for the BlackBerry and Windows Mobile as well.

Both TrackStar and iSTAR (which is a finalist for the Best in Show category) will be on display at this week's RFID Journal LIVE! conference at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin in Orlando.
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