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Chip Maker Tries 'Snack and Trace'

By using RFID to track shipments within its supply chain, KiMs, a Danish potato-chip maker, not only spiced up its sales but also cut the fat from its inventory and workforce.
By Farhat Khan
Microsoft Development Centre in India developed the middleware that was needed to manage the data from the readers to the Axapta system. The middleware was designed to ensure only one read per tag, to manage the health of the readers in real time by checking if readers were functioning, and to provide KiMs with continuous real-time information management.

The implementation process also involved close collaboration between SAMSys, which supplied the RFID readers for the project. SAMSys participated in the evaluation of KiMs’s production cycle and bar code system, and consequently designed and supervised the installation of MP9320 long-range UHF (868 MHz) readers. Avery Dennison supplied the antennas for the tags, while Phillips Semiconductors delivered HSL rewriteable chips that could hold 2 kilobytes of data. (Microsoft Business Solutions wanted to test a more complex RFID application instead of a comparatively simple read-only one.) The plan was to apply a tag to the top carton stacked on a pallet and then write a unique identifier consisting of a serial shipping container code to the tag, thereby associating the pallet with comprehensive production data. The RFID system would read the tags during storage, loading and shipment, and the data would be fed back into Axapta.

A major challenge was finding a suitable tag design for the application, due to the metallic-coated packaging used on all KiMs products. In the initial trials, the packaging reflected RF signals, making it hard to accurately read and write to the tags. Although it took some time for the project team to find the right RFID tag, they finally settled on a solution by Avery Dennison that used the metallic coating of the chips' packaging as an element of the tag design. By using the metallic coating within the packaging to enhance the read range of a passive tag, the design of the tag could be kept simple, keeping the cost down.

For the KiMs deployment, RFID readers were installed at the pallet area and at the entrance and exit of the staging area. The RFID-enabled Axapta system also included Microsoft's demand-planning software for sales forecasting; event-management templates for monitoring processes, such as purchase-order confirmations and supplier-delivery reminders; and Microsoft Business Network software and hosted services, a transaction network that lets KiMs exchange business documents electronically with its suppliers and distributors. Implementation of the RFID technology enabled data and information sharing in the supply chain, letting KiMs’s retailer customers get more involved in the delivery process and enabling more control and visibility.

KiMs’s Kjaer says that the RFID project ran smoothly overall and the vendors worked hard to deliver optimal results. Because the RFID system ran simultaneously with the existing bar code system, the project did not disturb the daily routines at KiMs site. Marc Kamstrup Jepsen, lead program manager at Microsoft Business Solution, says that running both technologies at the same time provided the best change-management process. It gave KiMs management the opportunity to turn off the bar code component in the Axapta system and run the system solely using RFID when it was ready to do so.

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