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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

"If I have a distribution center sitting on containers for two days," Kelly says, citing an example, "I can see that." He can then contact the DC to find out the reason for the shipping delay. The software also knows that containers, after a certain number of days, should be returned from a customer, and can address the problem if they fail to come back by that date. "We're changing the paradigm," he states. "What we're saying is, 'This is an asset of Johnson Controls, and we want it back. We know where it is, and if you have it, we're going to come looking for it.'"

"We've had a lot of large projects, but very few have been run as competently as this one," says Bill Wappler, Surgere's president. Kelly, he says, "is singularly responsible for what will be an explosion of RFID in the automotive industry."

Johnson Controls' tagged reusable container
"RFID is pretty tricky for the automotive environment," Wappler adds, due to the high level of metal and fast-moving goods in high volume. "We had to find a way to use the software, the reader hardware and the tags in a unified orchestra." Once the system was proven and fully installed, he says, it was found to have a read accuracy rate of more than 99 percent.

Johnson Controls is now considering ways in which to expand its use of RFID technology. The company has begun testing the RFID-tagging of trim covers (the upper parts of seat covers, which are made of cloth or leather), and is using an Impinj reader at its assembly plant to verify what kind of trim cover is being installed on each seat. The trim pieces can also be identified after being received at a DC or at the seat assembly plant, in a closed box, via a handheld or portal reader. Moreover, Johnson Controls has begun attaching RFID tags to equipment in order to ensure that the correct mold or tool is being used properly for every project, and that it matches the seat order. Eventually, as more components are tagged, an individual at the inspection station will be able to use a handheld to confirm which trim items or other tagged components are built into a particular seat, and thereby make sure that no errors were made before it is shipped.

In addition, Johnson Controls is considering the use of RFID to identify the airbag components that it installs in some of the car seats it manufactures. If an RFID tag were attached to each airbag, and if the tag's ID was linked to that item, a reader could later be used—in the event of an airbag recall—to identify any components that are not visible once they are built into a particular seat, so that no one would need to take the seat apart in order to identify those items.

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