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RFID Prevents Johnson Controls' Containers from Being Lost

The company recouped its investment in RFID soon after tagging 876,000 reusable containers used to transport car seats and their components, and installing SLS' smartPORTALs at 600 dock doors within 37 facilities.
By Claire Swedberg
May 17, 2016

In 2012, Johnson Controls was looking to improve its visibility into the millions of returnable containers used by the company's Automotive Experience division. The firm was challenged by costly loss or slow movement of the containers that carry components from its multiple plants to its distribution centers, and that transport finished products to customers. To rectify this problem, the company launched a cloud-based RFID solution provided by Smart Label Solutions (SLS), enabling it to track hundreds of thousands of reusable containers, as well as molds and other manufacturing tools, at two plants operated by its automotive division.

The RFID solution employs software supplied by Ohio-based Surgere, SLS' reader portals with NeWave Sensor Solutions' Wave antennas, Zebra Technologies handheld readers and a combination of Avery Dennison and Metalcraft RFID tags.

At each side of its dock doors, Johnson Controls bolted a smartPORTAL to the floor.
Brian Kelly, Johnson Controls' director of supply chain management, described his company's implementation and future plans at RFID Journal LIVE! 2016, held earlier this month in Orlando, Fla.

Some of Johnson Control's approximately four to five million containers and racks enable the company to transport the components—such as trim, headrests and seat backs—to its factories, where workers assemble them according to customer requests. The finished products are often loaded onto containers and racks, and then moved through DCs as well. Once received by a customer, the racks and containers are expected to be returned empty, for reuse at the manufacturing plants.

Johnson Controls' Brian Kelly
The containers and racks, which come in varying sizes and are composed of metal or plastic, range in value from $3 to $1,500 apiece. While there are 508 unique types of containers, most, Kelly says, are black and look like many of the other models. Tracking what is on hand at each facility at any given time had required visual inspections and multiple phone calls—and if some seemed to be missing, Johnson Controls had to order new containers as replacements. Sometimes, the company purchased cardboard containers to replace the missing plastic or metal versions if goods had to be shipped by a certain date and no containers were available.

With an RFID system in place, Johnson Controls hoped not only to reduce the incidence of loss but also to identify which parties were not returning containers. So in 2012, Johnson Controls' Technology & Advanced Development (T&AD) group evaluated RFID technology and its capabilities, and then launched a project with the company's supply chain management team to determine how the technology could be used most effectively.

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