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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

Johnson Controls selected the solution from SLS and conducted a seven-month proof-of-concept (POC) that ended in January 2015. For the POC, the company set up an SLS smartPORTAL at the dock doors of two of its plants, tagging four types of containers that pass between the two facilities. The firm decided that the POC deployment proved that RFID could be used to effectively address its needs, and thus began installing RFID SLS smartPORTALs across its plants and DCs.

At each side of the approximately 8-foot-wide dock doors, Johnson Controls bolted a smartPORTAL to the floor, according to Jeff Hudson, SLS' CEO. A total of 1,200 smartPORTALs were installed at 600 dock doors within 37 facilities, in order to read the tags of containers arriving at and exiting each location. With the Wave antennas built into the towers, Hudson explains, the system knows in which direction every tag is traveling.

NeWave's Wave antenna—two of which are contained in each smartPORTAL—is designed to generate a uniform RF field.
Each smartPORTAL—which contains an Impinj R420 reader and two NeWave Wave antennas—stands 8 feet tall and can read tags as high as 10 feet above the floor. Wave antennas are designed differently than standard reader patch antennas, according to Don Taylor, NeWave's business-development VP. Instead of radiating an RF beam in a single direction, like a traditional patch antenna, the Wave is designed to generate a uniform RF field around it. Taylor likens the Wave to a fluorescent light that illuminates a surrounding cylindrical space.

NeWave overcomes any RF fading or signal loss by installing a pair of Wave antennas inside each smartPORTAL, with one antenna inverted and cross-polarized with the other. This configuration, the company explains, also reduces the risk of RF signals spilling outside of the portal read area, which could happen with standard readers with patch antennas turned to high power in order to ensure that tags are read in challenging environments.

Johnson Controls has set up eight tagging facilities at the plants where the components originate, and 40 Zebra MC-9190-Z handheld readers are currently in use across those sites. To date, the company has tagged 876,000 containers. The tags are printed and encoded on Avery Dennison Monarch RFID printers, with the unique ID number encoded to each container's tag linked to that container's serial number.

As a container passes through a dock door, a smartPORTAL captures its tag ID, along with the time and the container's direction and location at the time of the read.

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