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Trane Restocks Supplies at Assembly Plant Via RFID

The heating and air-conditioning systems manufacturer has improved efficiency by having its logistic centers attach passive UHF RFID tags to the packaging of components shipped to its factory.
By Claire Swedberg

Prior to recommending an RFID solution last year, Ultriva analyzed the system's efficiency and found that the receiving dock's existing bar-code scanning procedure could lead to errors and time wastage, according to Nandu Gopalun, Ultriva's senior application consultant. "People were standing at the receiving dock scanning labels—60,000 per month, on average—and it was just too much scanning," he states.

With the RFID solution installed, when assembly workers require additional components, they place their order via the Ultriva system. However, personnel at the logistics centers no longer receive merely a printed listing of required goods—they now receive RFID tags specifically for those orders, generated by Zebra Technologies printer-encoders. The workers then pick the requested items, such as motors or fan blades, attach the adhesive RFID tags onto the components' cartons, and ship the goods to the plant.

At the Tyler facility, an arriving truck backs into the loading dock, where an Alien Technology fixed ALR-9010 RFID reader is installed. All goods removed from the truck are then transported past the reader antennas on a forklift. The interrogator captures each tag's ID number and forwards that data to the software, thereby updating the goods' status as received.

This information can then be viewed by the factory's workers and management, letting them know that goods are onsite and can thus be expected on the assembly line. The software can also issue alerts indicating that something has not been received when expected—such as components for which tags were printed at the warehouse, but that did not arrive at the plant within the expected span of time.

The system has been working well, Thurman reports, citing only a few challenges. Initially, he says, the company's database was not large enough to accommodate the volume of data collected from the RFID reads, but Trane has since resolved that issue. The read rate, he notes, increased once the firm discovered that a lengthy, audible tone during each read event temporarily halted the reading activity, allowing some tags to pass through the portal unread. That obstacle was resolved simply by shortening the audible tone.

"The system's been very reliable," Thurman states. Trane is now installing the solution at its other assembly plant in Georgia, he says.

In the future, the company may consider installing additional RFID readers to capture the movements of goods within the plant, but there are no immediate plans to do so. Although suppliers are not being asked to apply RFID tags to goods, the company might eventually make such a request, primarily to suppliers that send components directly to the factory rather than to one of the two third-party logistic centers.

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