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RFID Solution Is Watertight for North Sails Facility

The global sail manufacturer and service provider tracks the location and status of around 1,000 customers' sails at one of its lofts, using UHF RFID technology from A2B Tracking; the company plans to expand the system's use to some of its other 150 lofts around the world.
By Claire Swedberg

The solution, which was installed in the fall of 2017, consists of handheld Zebra Technologies RFID8500i Sled readers connected to Samsung smartphones, with A2B tracking software and an app, according to Peter Collins, A2B Tracking's president and CEO. The system also features a fixed portal with built-in Impinj RFID readers.

When a customer arrives with a sail that requires repair, he or she brings it inside a bag, to which North Sails personnel attach a UHF RFID hangtag from Metalcraft. The unique ID encoded on the tag is linked to the data provided by the customer, including his or her name, along with the type of sail and the necessary repair work. That information is stored in A2B's inventory-management system, as well as in North Sails' own software. Workers then place the sail in a staging area on the production floor, or in storage.

North Sails' Eric Wakefield
On a weekly basis, employees walk through the production floor and the storage areas with the handheld unit. The phone runs an A2B Tracking app that enables it to identify each tag read and then to link that tag's ID number to the appropriate customer and repair order. As the system reads tags, inventory is updated and any missing sails are displayed on the app. If a sail is discovered to have been misplaced—such as having been put in storage when it should be in production—workers can address that change, thereby ensuring that the repair is accomplished on time.

When a customer comes in to pick up a sail (provided that it's during regular business hours), a worker can use the A2B Tracking software to identify where the system last detected that specific sail. If any problems occur, the employee can use a Zebra handheld reader running A2B's software algorithms, similar to Geiger-counter mode, and walk through the facility until finding the missing sail. This, Wakefield says, takes a process that might have required several days in the past, and accomplishes it within a few minutes while the customer is still onsite. All it requires, he notes, is that the user select the "Locator" function in the app and walk within 10 to 12 feet of the correct sail.

Peter Collins, A2B Tracking's
The RFID technology is also being used to allow customers to pick up completed sail orders outside of business hours. The company provides an unlocked storage area in which sails awaiting pickup can be stored after customer pickups have been scheduled. An RFID reader at the door to the storage room captures the tag ID of each sail brought into or removed from the room, and can also determine the direction in which the tag is moving, based on the multiple antennas built into the reader. When software detects that the sail has been removed, that action prompts a text message or email to be sent to management, indicating which sails have been picked up. They could then, in turn, send a message to the customer, confirming the pickup.

For several decades, Collins says, A2B Tracking has focused its business model on using passive RFID tracking as an affordable, accurate and low-maintenance solution. The company has served the military market since the early 2000s, he adds, to help personnel track assets used in the defense sector. It is also located in Rhode Island, near North Sails' facility.

The A2B Tracking system that North Sails has employed is a modified version of the solution A2B offers to the military. "This wasn't custom-developed," Collins says. In fact, the military uses the system in a similar manner, tracking tools and other high-value items, such as computers and electronics.

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