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Red Ledge Brings RFID to Food, Textile, Automotive Industries

Having successfully deployed automation solutions for a variety of manufacturing companies, the British firm is supporting a new trial project using RFID to track goods in transit.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 14, 2014

U.K. software and engineering firm Red Ledge reports that a large restaurant chain is about to begin piloting an RFID-based solution to track food from processing plants to several restaurants in the United Kingdom. The solution, which aims to track food and thereby ensure its location and subsequent freshness when used at the restaurants, will be the latest deployment of Red Ledge's RFID Manufacturing & Logistics system, an end-to-end solution for logistics and manufacturing applications. Following the pilot's conclusion, the restaurant could opt to expand the solution's use to other locations throughout the United Kingdom, as well as to other parts of the world, says Andy O'Donnell, Red Ledge's managing director. (O'Donnell declined to provide details regarding the pilot or the company's identity.)

Red Ledge's solutions differ from other RFID-based logistics systems, O'Donnell says, because the RFID hardware is built directly into automation equipment manufactured and provided by Red Ledge, with the RFID data managed by the company's own automation software. Red Ledge has been building RFID technology into some of its automation equipment since 1998, he adds, and its other recent installations include RFID-based solutions for the automotive, chemical and food industries.

Red Ledge's Andy O'Donnell
One example is a Red Ledge automated sorting and processing system installed by textile firm Minova Ltd., the U.K. production division of French high-value fabric company Dormeuil. Three years ago, O'Donnell says, the firm began working with Red Ledge to develop an automated system for filling custom orders destined for tailors and garment companies worldwide. Minova's fabric is used in high-fashion clothing. The company sells thousands of unique types of fabrics—based on thread count, colors, patterns and weaves—that it sells for use in manufacturing suits, ties and handkerchiefs.

Prior to the automated solution's implementation, the company employed a manual process for filling custom orders. Workers had to walk through the storage area to visually locate and identify the kind of fabric requested, and then manually cut off a piece in the correct size to fill that order.

With the Red Ledge solution in place, the company now uses Red Ledge's automation machinery to unroll fabric from the bolt, measure the length, gently clamp the fabric and then cut it. The solution also requires radio frequency identification technology, however, to ensure the identity of the fabric being used. Each bolt has an off-the-shelf ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC RFID tag affixed to its end. (Red Ledge works with a variety of RFID tag and reader vendors, including Impinj, Intermec, Motorola Solutions , Nordic ID and Xerafy.) The unique ID number encoded to the tag is then linked to that fabric type in Red Ledge's automation software.

When an order is placed for a specific fabric, workers access the software, which lists the fabric's location within the storage area, and use a handheld Motorola MC3190-Z reader to interrogate the tags in that area, ensuring that the correct fabric is being removed. The reader can also be placed in Geiger mode to locate the fabric on the shelf. Staff members then place the bolt on a carousel that starts the automated process of opening, measuring and cutting the fabric on the bolt. A Balluff BIS-U 6027 RFID reader and a BIS-U 302-CO-TNCB antenna, built into the cutting machinery, read the bolt's tag, and the software links the ID number to that specific order, thereby ensuring that the proper fabric is being cut. The software can automatically shut off the machinery if it identifies an error. "It is impossible to cut the wrong cloth to an order," O'Donnell states. "The unique properties of the RFID tag ensure this always matches the order."

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