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Korean Warehouses Deploy RFID-Enhanced Pick-to-Light System

CJ GLS says its order-fulfillment system is reducing errors, boosting efficiency and cutting costs at the facilities of four Korean companies.
By Dave Friedlos
May 17, 2011In South Korea, four companies, including those that sell books, health products or cosmetics, are employing RFID-enhanced pick-to-light (PTL) systems to fulfill orders from retailers and consumers. The so-called Multi-Purpose System (MPS), developed by Korean logistics firm CJ GLS, is designed to improve on PTL systems, which use LED readouts to direct staff members to determine the locations of goods, as well as the quantities required, based on data provided by warehouse-management systems (WMS).

Chris Yoon, the MPS project manager at CJ GLS, says changing customer demands have led to new challenges in stock picking and order fulfillment. "Order-fulfillment systems were traditionally designed for processing a small volume of large-sized orders," he explains. "With smaller orders increasingly common, these systems are no longer efficient or effective, distribution costs have increased and customer service quality is lost. MPS eliminates all paperwork, and stock movements are controlled electronically. Information is transmitted to the warehouse, and the picker is directly notified of the work to be done at each of the shelves, and where the product is to be stored."

At eBay's South Korean book-distribution warehouse, each picking station is fitted with multiple MPS indicators and a T.Panel (iPad).

An MPS indicator (MPI) is an electronic device that can be installed anywhere within a warehouse or factory, to display instructions to employees. Typically, multiple MPIs are installed on shelves at each picking station. The devices can illuminate different colors to signal different instructions, and can flash an arrow indicating whether an operator needs to pick from the shelf compartment above or below the display. While traditional PTL systems also guide workers to the appropriate location to find stock, Yoon says, the RFID-enhanced system is completely automated, eliminating the need to manually scan bar codes on containers used to carry ordered items, and thereby saving the staff time.

Passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags, supplied by Alien Technology and RFcamp and operating in the 908.5 to 914 MHz ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) band, are attached to the plastic buckets in which workers place products required to fulfill an order. RFID readers, supplied by Alien and Minerva, are installed beneath the conveyor belt at the point at which the order buckets are first introduced into the picking line, as well as at several other locations along the line.

When a bucket is inserted into the picking line, the readers detect its RFID tag, and order information from the WMS, or from MPS Manager middleware, is transmitted wirelessly to the MPIs. This causes each appropriate MPI to activate a light, pointing staff members to the corresponding item to be picked. Upon picking up the designated item, a worker presses a button on the MPI to let the system know that this action has taken place. Once finished picking items for the order corresponding to that bucket, the employee then informs the system of this status by touching the display screen on the T.Panel—an Apple iPad or a tablet PC mounted at his or her picking station.

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