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Poltrona Frau Uses RFID to Track Leather Materials

The Italian luxury furniture company is having its suppliers attach a passive UHF tag to each piece of leather so that it can expedite the receipt of leather upholstery material, as well as its inventory-taking process.
By Claire Swedberg

The process was not only time-consuming, but could lead to errors if a piece of leather was missed, or was incorrectly identified and entered into the system.

This year, Boselli says, Poltrona Frau began working with RFID systems integration and mobile app provider Aton to develop a solution using ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology. Aton provided "process analysis, software development, RFID hardware integration and post-sales support," says Denisa Zara, Aton's corporate communications manager. The firm also selected the most appropriate hardware for the solution.

Roberto Boselli, Poltrona Frau Group's CIO
"The main challenge is related to process complexity," Zara states. "We had to analyze not only Poltrona Frau processes and systems, but also [those of] tanneries" in general. For instance, she says, to develop the solution, Aton used a heuristic method (a technique designed to solve problems with an approximate solution when classic methods fail), rather than more traditional algorithms.

Another challenge, Zara reports, centered around identifying the optimal tag positioning on each piece of leather, in order to accommodate the leather-cutting process.

Poltrona Frau started using the RFID solution for products destined to retailers for residential sales. This summer, the company began providing RFID labels to its three leather suppliers for this line of products. A label is attached to the interior side of the leather, near the edge, where the tag will not damage any leather that will be visible on the furniture. Because it is near the edge, that portion of the leather is likely to be cut away.

Suppliers are using their own software to input information related to each piece of leather, such as the supplier ID, item number, color, batch number and date of manufacture. All of that data is linked to the unique ID number encoded to the RFID label attached to that particular piece of leather. Suppliers then forward the information to Poltrona Frau as an advance shipping notice.

Once Poltrona Frau receives that notice, its Aton-based RFID software, residing on its own database, stores the tag ID number and other information for each piece of leather that will be arriving from that supplier. When the leather arrives on pallets, Poltrona Frau's workers no longer have to examine each piece of leather. Instead, they can simply wave an MC9190-Z handheld RFID reader, from Zebra Technologies, near the pallet to capture the tag IDs. That data is then forwarded to the ERP software via a software interface, enabling the system to retrieve all related information and update the status of each item as received. The Aton software can also display an alert on the handheld reader or computer running the software in the event that an item is discovered to be missing, or if an unexpected item has been received.

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