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RFID Carves Out a Place in Woodworking Industry

Woodworking factory equipment companies are highlighting how RFID technology can be used for tracking inventory and work-in-progress, as well for other purposes, to improve efficiency and enable the quick production of made-to-order furniture.
By Claire Swedberg
May 11, 2015

When LIGNA, a leading tradeshow for the woodworking industry, opens its doors this week in Germany, it intends to bring some focus to radio frequency identification and how the sector can use the technology. This is the first year that the trade fair is including an RFID technology demonstration, known as the RFID Factory, to showcase RFID vendors and help educate the woodworking and furniture industries about the technology, says Christian Pfeiffer, LIGNA's director.

The RFID-enabled demo is being spearheaded by Abaco Informationssysteme GmbH, a systems integrator based in Löhne, Germany. Abaco offers software for furniture producers and also provides services for integrating software into RFID installations. A number of furniture companies are already using RFID to track goods within their own facilities, says Andrej Ermlich, Abaco's head of project management. During the past few years, however, Abaco has found that the furniture industry has begun examining how the RFID-based data could be shared with other members of the supply stream.

Logopak is demonstrating its recently released ATA machine, which can automatically embed RFID tags into wooden furniture components.
"The next logical step from getting your own 'intra' logistics in gear, via RFID solutions, is to include your suppliers," Ermlich says. He finds that some furniture companies are now encouraging their own suppliers to tag materials before shipping them, and are sharing RFID-based data with other members of the supply chain.

Abaco was launched in 1982 as an IBM sales partner for software. "Since our geographical region has a very high concentration of furniture companies," Ermlich says, "our main sales focus was predefined."

Since 2006, Abaco has shifted to RFID as its primary focus as a growing number of furniture companies have begun moving from RFID pilots to permanent rollouts. "In most cases," Ermlich reports, "our daily business included ID solutions of some kind, so RFID was basically the next step."

Woodworking companies are finding marked benefits from RFID technology, Abaco finds, by tracking work-in-progress and supplies, as well as finished products as they move to retailers and end users. Many furniture companies are using RFID for complete Web integration of information, thereby allowing customers or partners to view the history and location of a particular piece of furniture. Increasingly, they are also looking into integrating their RFID systems with smartphones and tablets, in order to enable truck drivers and retailers to track and trace the goods that they ship or receive.

In 2007, to share success stories with other furniture companies in Europe, Abaco developed its first RFID-enabled demo factory on a smaller scale, at a fair called ZOW, for furniture company suppliers. This year will be the first, however, at LIGNA.

According to Ermlich, the participants—approximately 16 companies are taking part in the RFID Factory demo at this year's LIGNA trade show—are focused entirely on solutions involving passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tags. This is the predominant technology in furniture projects, he explains, "because in almost every case, there is a situation where bulk reading functionality is needed."

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