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Endries International Simplifies Parts-Inventory Management

The global fasteners and production supplies distributor has designed its own RFID-enabled kiosk to identify empty component bins and automatically trigger replenishment orders.
By Claire Swedberg

Endries had investigated radio frequency identification as early as 2001, but had found, at that time, that the technology had both cost and reliability issues. When revisiting RFID in 2014, the company discovered that costs had come down and reliability had improved. What's more, since the system would be operating at a customer's site, but would be managed and used by Endries, the company needed it to be something that could be set up quickly and maintained remotely.

Endries worked with researchers and students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's RFID Lab to develop a solution. The group tested passive high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID tags, compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, as well as ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags, by reading them via handheld readers. In the long run, however, the technology would need to be installed in a portal. "The solution required a portal or chute to accept bins," Fischer says.

When a worker empties a bin of Endries-supplied product, he or she drops it down a chute in the Endries PULSE kiosk.
Students helped to identify the best orientation of tags on the bins, and also led a project seeking solution providers based on Endries' requirements. However, Fischer reports, they found no companies offering both hardware and software that would serve Endries' needs. "Some did hardware, some did software," he says.

There were specific challenges for the solution as well, Fischer adds, such as a high quantity of metal in racks and in the fasteners themselves. This led to a lot of false positive reads (nearby tags being read when they were not moving through the chute of the RFID-enabled used-bin container).

Endries, working with the university team, created a custom loop antenna and fitted each bin with two Smartrac Mini Block passive HF RFID tags, each encoded with a unique ID number, thereby bringing the read rate up to 100 percent. The ID encoded to each bin's tags is linked in the system's software to the specific type and size of the parts stored within that bin, as well to the customer's account information. The system also includes a kiosk with a built-in Feig Electronics MR102 HF reader module and Endries' own antenna, featuring Endries' patent-pending design.

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