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Adler Modemarkte Rolls Out RFID Robot Across 45 Stores

After several years of piloting the technology to prove it can bring automated inventory visibility to its stores, the fashion retailer is expanding MetraLabs' TORY robotic technology this summer, with plans to equip all 175 shops by 2021.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 01, 2019

German clothing store chain Adler Modemärkte is expanding its use of RFID technology with a tag-reading robotic system that now tracks inventory at 20 of its stores, with plans to deploy the system across 45 locations—about one-third of the retailer's sites—by September 2019. The system consists of a robot known as TORY, which has a built-in UHF RFID reader and antenna array that collects RFID data during stock-taking trips throughout the stores. The technology was provided by RFID technology company MetraLabs (see MetraLabs' TORY RFID Inventory Robot Celebrates First Jubilee).

Adler is one of the largest retail chains in Germany, with stores throughout that country, as well as in Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland. It mostly sells its own brands for women, men and children, though around 25 percent of its goods come from external brands. For years, it has applied UHF RFID tags to its branded products and incoming external brands in order to better manage inventory counts as items move through its distribution center and stores, thereby reducing the risk of goods going out of stock at any specific site. The tags were periodically read at the stores via handheld readers. Workers walked throughout each of the 177 stores on a weekly basis to capture the EPC UHF RFID tags, enabling the company to regularly update its inventory count.

With the RFID deployment, Adler's goal has been to increase its inventory accuracy and avoid the misplacement of goods within its stores. While the company has used its staff to track inventory and return goods to the proper place on store shelves and displays, this takes them away from their primary task of sales and assisting customers, says Patrick Schiller, Adler Modemärkte's CIO.

The company began working with MetraLabs in 2015, at which time it started testing TORY's ability to take on sales associates' task of scanning tags to identify the presence and location of store merchandise. The robot piloting took place at a handful of stores (see German Clothing Retailer Adler Gives RFID Robots a Spin).

"During the pilot phase, the physical challenges of RFID technology were the primary consideration," Schiller says. The first version of TORY, with its 11 antennas and a reading range of more than 7 meters (23 feet)—up to 30 feet—is common, he says. That version could read tags through walls. As such, the software algorithms for stock counts had to be regularly adjusted. For this reason, the retailer has painted the storage area's walls with RFID-shielding paint.

The TORY robot comes with an off-the-shelf UHF RFID reader, an array of patch antennas developed in house, and laser and camera sensors to identify its path and current location. Its diameter is 50 centimeters (19.7 inches), while the antenna tower in the middle can extend to more than 7 feet. The robot's typical reading speed is approximately 0.5 to 1 meter (1.6 to 3.3 feet) and about 250 tags per second, which is normal walking speed. However, that can depend on how many tags it sees at any given time, says Johannes Trabert, MetraLabs' co-founder and executive partner. Its built-in memory can store more than one million tag reads. The robot forwards the data it collects to a server via a Wi-Fi or wired connection.

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