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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

An SLS Photo Eye sensor is mounted at the top of the smartPORTAL. The sensor, which SLS custom-built for this application, is powered by the reader, and is pointed at reflective tape on the dock door. Once the dock door is raised, the electric eye triggers the reader to activate the smartPORTAL's RFID reader. This process eliminates signal bounce off the closed metal dock doors, Kelly explains, and has also reduced reader power consumption and unnecessary network traffic.

Staff members use handheld Zebra readers to perform weekly cycle counts at each facility. The handhelds run an application provided by SLS, known as COS Mobile, that allows users to plan shipments using container inventory data derived from a particular cycle count. A worker can also use the reader in Geiger counter mode to search for a specific container.

Installed in each smartPORTAL is an Impinj R420 reader.
With the new system, Johnson Controls has designated lanes for receiving and shipping, through which containers can quickly pass and be captured electronically via the RFID portals. Surgere developed a software application that generates more than 20 different reports for the system, such as aging, inventory by dates and last-seen locations.

In addition, SLS provides what it calls smartEIT Listening Service—a software product developed to control and monitor RFID readers in the smartPORTALs. The service was customized to deliver tag and health events to the back-end software selected by Johnson Controls.

The technology has helped the company to identify regions and businesses that are misusing container assets. Its supply chain management teams are now able to recover those assets and put them back into the network. Kelly says he has been able to rebalance his container fleet and reduce the number of replacement containers that need to be ordered due to missing items. Johnson Controls can now cycle-count all of its containers and racks within minutes, as opposed to the several days it previously took before the RFID system was installed.

Johnson Controls recouped its investment in less than a year, Kelly says. The installation of the entire RFID-based solution was accomplished within just six months, he notes, and was more manageable for the company since the software is cloud-based and requires minimal IT involvement by Johnson Control's own IT department. The system is maintained by SLS. "I don't have anyone on my IT staff to ensure readers are working," Kelly states. Instead, Johnson Controls turned the system's management over to SLS and Surgere. "The core of this solution is our service providers," he says, who provide him with data that his company can then determine how to use.

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