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Cable Company Reels in Benefits With RFID

Keystone Cable's warehouse in Singapore has deployed a solution consisting of Xerafy passive UHF tags, a Phychips dongle reader and SIMTech's smartphone app, reducing the time employees spend searching for reels of cable by 90 percent.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 21, 2014

When warehouse workers at Singapore company Keystone Cable process an order for its telecommunication and electric cables, they need to locate large reels of specific products and then return them to storage so that those reels can be accessed again for future orders. The warehouse contains thousands of reels, and a single worker can spend 30 to 45 minutes locating the correct one. The company has installed a technological solution that employs passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags on reels, as well as on racks at its storage locations. The firm reports that a forklift driver now requires only about five minutes to retrieve a cable reel. The RFID solution, provided by the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), includes Xerafy passive Data Trak II RFID tags and Phychips' Arete Mobile Pop Smart RFID dongle readers connected to Android phones.

Keystone Cable manufactures insulated cables and sells them to customers in the building and infrastructure, oil and data, and data communications sectors. The company produces thousands of different types of cables, each stored on its own reel—a drum made of either steel or wood. Wooden drums range from 32 centimeters by 60 centimeters in size (1 foot by 2 feet), to 70 centimeters by 100 centimeters, while steel drums range from 85 centimeters by 120 centimeters in size, to 120 centimeters by 240 centimeters (4 feet by 8 feet). A fully loaded reel can weigh up to five metric tons (11,000 pounds). Therefore, retrieving the appropriate cable to fulfill each customer's order proved to be a major challenge. A warehouse worker received an order form from the sales department, indicating the serial number printed on the reel and the length of cable to be cut from that drum. He then searched for that reel. Making this process even more difficult, the cables look very similar, so ensuring the correct serial number on a product before picking it for a customer is crucial.

Xerafy's Data Trak II RFID tag, encased in a tough polymer, measures 38 by 13 by 4 millimeters (1.50 by 0.51 by 0.16 inch).
The employee used a forklift to move the drum to the cutting area, where the cable was cut and recoiled onto a smaller reel. That smaller reel was then shipped to the customer, and the larger drum was returned to the storage area. Prior to the RFID system's installation, staff members typically just looked for the nearest available storage space and placed the reel there.

Keystone Cable's Derek Zhu
The cable company sought a quicker way for workers to find reels. The firm first looked into active RFID tags, says Derek Zhu, Keystone Cable's senior strategy manager. However, he explains, "the system would have been too complex for our situation," due to the large reader infrastructure that would have been required, and "the cost was much more expensive [than passive RFID)], far exceeding our budget requirement."

"The passive RFID solution proposed by SIMTech was both economical and suitable for our situation," Zhu says. Keystone Cable began conducting feasibility tests with SIMTech in spring of this year, and the system was taken live in June. Using an RFID reader dongle that plugs into a smartphone's headphone jack, as well as SIMTech's smartphone app for linking the collected data to a hosted server, enables the solution to remain relatively low-cost. By buying passive tags rather than active ones, the company also saves money.

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