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Hampton Unlocks ROI From RFID

A supplier of locks and lighting to Wal-Mart deploys RFID "at minimal cost" and achieves benefits, including faster invoice payment and the ability to know which goods are lost or stolen.
By Jonathan Collins
Aside from eliminating invoice disputes, RFID also seems to have hastened the payment on invoices, too, by about four to five days, according to Hampton. Hampton says it isn’t sure why this has happened, suggesting it could be that the Sanger DC is operating more efficiently or that RFID shipments are getting special treatment at this stage.

To track and record data on pallet and cases of each of its shipments as it moves through supply chain, Hampton has developed its own application. The application provides information on all of Hampton’s tagged shipments by order number, by the pallets in each order, by SKUs on each pallet and by EPC codes on each pallet for each SKU. In addition, the application can trace a pallet or case at each read point in the supply chain and display where and when each read was taken.

Part of Hampton’s goal to “own the technology” was met by ensuring its own IT staff worked on developing its RFID implementation. “We didn’t want a company to come in with a black-box solution. We wanted to get our hands dirty and learn the process,” says Millsap.

Antennas around the shipping conveyor are housed in an RF confinement cage

Avery Denison helped determine what tags were required and then supplied its 64-bit EPC Class 1 RFID labels and 6405 label printer-encoders. After some initial testing, Hampton found that challenges it had expected in getting reads from RFID tags on cartons of their mostly metal products were unfounded.

“We were concerned about tagging cartons with metal products at the beginning, but we found that even tagging cartons carrying padlocks, there was enough airspace around the locks due to the packaging that getting RFID reads wasn’t an issue as long as we were careful where the tags were placed,” says Millsap.

The tagging process begins at Hampton’s DC when cases of products arrive from the company’s overseas manufacturing facilities. A worker uses a handheld bar code reader to scan each case’s bar code to identify the product and make sure an RFID label is correctly encoded for that case. According to Hampton Products, at present around 10 percent of the tags don’t encode and have to be discarded. After the worker manually applies the RFID label to each case, the cases are then moved into storage bins, where they await the pick process used to assemble orders for shipment to Wal-Mart.

When it’s time to fill an order bound for Wal-Mart’s Sanger DC, a worker picks tagged cartons from the bins and places them on a conveyor that is currently equipped with 10 optical bar code scanners and a Matrics AR400 reader with fitted with three antennas and linked to the CJS middleware. As the cases move along the conveyor, the AR400 reads the cases’ tags to ensure the conveyor routes the cases to the correct lane to complete a shipment pallet. So far, the company says, it is reading RFID tags at conveyor speeds of 300 feet per minute.

At the end of each lane, the cases are assembled into a pallet. Before the tagged cases are stacked on a pallet, however, Hampton runs each case along a second conveyor, also equipped with an AR400 reader and three antennas and linked to the CJS middleware, to verify that its tag is still working and that the correct cases are being shipped. If the tag fails to be read or even if the tag is not dead but just requires more time to be read, Hampton Products substitutes a new tag encoded using another label printer-encoder.

“If a label doesn’t read, we toss it and replace it. At Wal-Mart, where they scan faster, if it doesn’t get read there we are out of luck,” says Millsap. Currently, Hampton Products has found that about 8 percent of the RFID labels have to be replaced at this stage.

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