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Wurth Oy Retools Its Picking Line

The Finnish supplier of screwdrivers, drill bits and other industrial products has installed EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and readers, helping to automate order fulfillment, and plans to use the system to eliminate all paperwork from its picking process.
By Rhea Wessel
Jun 18, 2010Würth Oy, the Finnish arm of the Würth Group, a global supplier of assembly and fastening materials, is employing radio frequency identification in the picking process along a 1.5-kilometer-long (0.9-mile-long) line at its plant in Riihimäki. The closed-loop application features 40 stationary readers that interrogate EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags on roughly 1,000 plastic containers. The information collected via RFID is used to direct the conveyor belt system to send the containers to the proper picking stations.

The system not only saves time by ensuring that the containers are routed to the correct stations, but also lowers labor costs by reducing the number of manual steps in the picking process, according to Antti Känsälä, the business development manager at Vilant Systems, the company that designed the RFID system for Würth Oy.

Würth installed a total of 40 UHF readers at various points along its 1.5-kilometer-long picking line.

Würth is using Web tags from UPM Raflatac, as well as Astra readers provided by ThingMagic. A single tag is glued onto each container.

Würth had been operating an almost identical system based on low-frequency (LF) tags that it installed 15 years ago. However, the firm could no longer obtain parts for the proprietary system, so it hired Vilant to replace it, and to do so without requiring any downtime on the line. The company operates the picking line in two shifts every weekday, and more than 70 percent of its orders are processed there daily.

Vilant's Antti Känsälä
With the new UHF system, data to direct the conveyor system is saved on the tag, just as it was with the older LF system. At the beginning of the picking line, the system writes that information to each container's tag. Readers then interrogate the tag on the container as it moves down the line. When a container approaches one of the 20 picking stations at which it should stop, the system moves that container off the main conveyor and on to an adjacent picking station, where a worker loads it with products, as instructed by a printed picking list. Once finished, the employee slides the container back onto the moving conveyor belt. Each container stops at an average of five to 10 picking stations along the line, in order to be filled with products from the company's catalog of 30,000 items, such as screws, bolts and protective clothing.

Würth is utilizing a total of 40 readers, installed at various points along one side of the line. However, Känsälä notes, only 20 of those units are mounted near picking stations. The others are mounted at the start and end stations on the line, as well as at other points not associated with a picking station. These readers collect data regarding tags that pass by, so that Würth's managers can have a real-time overview of each container's progress along the picking line, and give certain containers priority if necessary.

"Managers can see the route map for each container," Känsälä states.

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