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Sumitomo Electric Lightwave Boosts Productivity in Its Warehouse

The North Carolina manufacturer of fiber-optic cables has been using EPC tags to track raw materials, and plans to tag the reusable reels that it ships to customers in the near future.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 21, 2011Sumitomo Electric Lightwave, a North Carolina manufacturer of fiber-optic cables, reports that radio frequency identification has increased its production by 40 percent annually, without requiring the hiring of additional warehouse employees, due to an increase in efficiency of tracking the locations of raw materials. Sumitomo is using the technology to track the materials—such as reels of steel tape and Kevlar yarns, as well as boxes of plastic materials—as they flow through the company's warehouse in Research Triangle Park.

"We wanted to improve raw-material flow and reduce the amount of [data-inputting] transactions we had to do," says Cosby Dudley, Sumitomo's production-planning manager, who described the deployment during a presentation at RFID Journal LIVE! 2011, held last week in Orlando, Fla. The RFID solution was provided by Mid-South Marking Systems, based in Memphis, Tenn. Within the next year or so, the company intends to expand its use of the system to track smaller raw materials, along with the shipping and subsequent return of reusable steel cable reels.

Cosby Dudley, Sumitomo Electric Lightwave's production-planning manager
Sumitomo Electric Lightwave—a subsidiary of Sumitomo Electric Industries, in Japan—is a manufacturer and supplier of fiber-optic cable and related equipment for homes or businesses.

The company's warehouse is a busy place, with just two employees responsible for moving raw materials to the assembly area, in addition to tracking the location and stock volume of each of more than 100 types of materials within a 75,000- to 100,000-square-foot area. Moreover, the warehouse supervisor was responsible for recording and storing data regarding each material movement throughout the facility—which was time-consuming and could result in decreased productivity.

In 2007, the company began offering new products, thereby increasing activity at the manufacturing site. These new products required new raw materials, and the warehouse inventory increased from 120 unique raw materials to approximately 150. "If a raw material ran out," Dudley says, "we knew it could have a serious negative impact on our schedule."

To manage the supply of raw materials, Sumitomo needed to know the movements of those materials throughout the shop floor—but occasionally, Dudley explains, these materials could not be located. "Because of the size of our facility and the number of possible locations for material, it may take one to two hours to do a good investigation of a negative quantity," he states. "This was a substantial amount of time for the warehouse manager." Therefore, workers manually recorded every transaction—each movement from one part of the warehouse or assembly site to another—on paper, which was later input into the system by the supervisor.

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