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Folding-Carton Manufacturer Gains Visibility With RFID

The system enables Accord Carton to view pallets loaded with its products as they move through automated robotic processes of packing, sizing, storage and order fulfillment.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 12, 2014

Packaging manufacturer Accord Carton is preparing to expand its RFID system that currently enables automatic identification of pallets loaded with its products as they move through a robotic storage system. With the RFID system—provided originally by Miles Technology, an RFID company that was acquired last year by Barcording Inc.—the company can identify when each pallet is loaded, sized and placed into or taken out of storage. The expansion, planned for later this year, consists of installing an RFID reader at the loading dock, in order to extend that visibility to the shipping of goods. With it, Accord Carton can prevent errors and gain a more detailed inventory of where each pallet is, and when, which it can also share with its customers.

Based in Alsip, Ill., Accord Carton makes folding cardboard cartons customized in size and shape as well as with logos and printed text on the cartons. Accord cuts and prints the cartons, and stores them flat on pallets. Customers can then fold them for use in storing goods such as food or beverages, pharmaceuticals or personal-care items. The movement and storage of loaded pallets is mostly automatic, thanks to a robotic solution from HK Systems, an automated material-handing company since acquired by Dematic. When a pallet loaded with finished cartons comes off the conveyor, it is routed to one of two locations—directly to the loading dock to be shipped out, or to the HK automatic system that places the pallet onto a rack for short-term storage until an order is ready to be shipped.

The challenge for the company, however, has been ensuring where each loaded pallet is. Prior to installing its RFID solution, the company relied entirely on a staff member to visually identify each pallet, and determine what was loaded on that pallet and for which customer, by reading the order sheet placed on the pallet. The pallet would come off the loading conveyor and pass to a holding area, where it waited prior to being sized before the robotic racking system put it away. During this pause in the loaded pallet's movement, the worker would read the order sheet that had been placed or stretch-wrapped onto the top of the pallet, and then input the order information into the management software.

Because the automation made it a safety concern for staff to be walking around the pallets, a worker conducted this process from behind a glass window in a computer room about 10 feet from the pallet. However, it was hard to read the text and ID numbers on the sheet of paper from the room, so the worker often had to use binoculars. Sometimes, even with binoculars, the employee could not make out the necessary details and had to leave the room and walk out onto the floor to examine the paperwork at close distance.

This solution was time-consuming and delayed the racking process, as well as creating a potential for errors, says William (Bill) Codo, VP of Accord Carton. Codo says the company began looking for an RFID solution to identify each pallet instead. Since the company already used the printed order form that travels with each pallet during the loading and shipping processes (and also used by the customer to identify the products it is receiving), Accord Carton wanted to embed an RFID tag into the order form, rather than affixing an adhesive RFID tag directly to the pallet.

"We did some research online and called a couple of different companies," Codo says. He and his colleagues found Miles Technology to be the most responsive and flexible.

In its racking area, Accord Carton installed four overhead RFID reader antennas—two aimed in the direction of inbound pallets, and two aimed in the direction of outbound pallets.

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