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Plastics Company Prevents Errors With RFID

Aurora Plastics has adopted a system from Quest Integrated Solutions, using Janam hardware, that not only helps prevent costly mistakes in the process of off-loading plastic resin, but also improves rail-yard management.
By Claire Swedberg

When the company first receives a railcar, an operator uses the Janam reader to link the RFID tag to the car's serial number in the Quest software, according to Doug Lloyd, Janam's VP of global sales. Aurora Plastics can thus document that railcar's history, thanks to integration with the company's manufacturing management software.

The plant operates two rail spurs on which railcars come in daily, loaded with a variety of resins. The railcars are parked at a specific location (there are up to eight on each spur) and are hooked up to a pipe connected to particular silos, into which the product is unloaded. When a railcar is scheduled to arrive with resin, Aurora Plastics receives a notice indicating the car's ID number and the product loaded within it. The railcar's serial number is linked to the ID number of the RFID tag on the side of the car.

Seth Scott
Once a railcar arrives, workers use the Janam handheld to read its tag ID and view data from the Quest software regarding what product is stored inside the car. They can confirm that the railcar is in the proper spot, then connect the offloading pipe to the car dedicated to a specific silo of resin. In addition, the Quest software is connected to the PLC system for the offloading equipment. If the railcar is not loaded with the expected resin, or if it has not yet been inspected, the offloading system will not function.

However, Scott notes, the technology is being used to do more than prevent errors during offloading. The railcars may remain onsite for hours or days before leaving the site, and yard managers traditionally had to walk the spurs and visually identify when each car was at a given location, as well as its status as either loaded or unloaded.

With the RFID system, employees now carry the handheld reader while walking through the yard, identifying each railcar and automatically updating the software on a daily basis. That data can then be shared with supplier companies so that they can better dispatch the movements of those railcars. "This was an extensive project that took many months of collaboration," Brower states.

The system was taken live approximately 14 months ago. Since then, Scott reports, "We've had zero problems with it." He speculates that the yard-management system pays for itself merely by preventing a single error, but adds that the solution also provides efficiency gains. "When we did the project, I wanted to do more than eliminate human error in unloading," he recalls, noting that the technology has improved the scheduling of railcars into and out of the facility. In the future, he says, the company may opt to launch the technology at a new site in Pasadena, Texas.

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