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RFID Has Good Chemistry for Polymer Management

Polish chemical company Grupa Azoty is planning its deployment options after piloting UHF RFID technology from ProxiGroup to manage the status and locations of its bagged products as they are packaged and then transported into zones.
By Claire Swedberg

Warehouse operators use the handheld device to enter the ID number or lot number of the particular product they seek, and then view the zone-based location. The mobile reader system provides Geiger counter-type detection of a product within about 5 meters (16.4 feet). Users can simply select a prompt to locate a given product, explains Krystian Marecki, ProxiGroup's principle software engineer, and the reader will detect the RF signal of the tagged item, then beep faster and louder as the device approaches it.

Deployment of the technology took place within less than a week, Shull reports, in large part due to the software's CAD-based predictive modeling. "That's important so that companies can ascertain an ROI [return on investment] very quickly," he states. A permanent deployment could be accomplished at a rate of about a week per warehouse. One challenge for RFID tracking was presented by the aluminum foil packaging of the chemicals, Kolinski says.

To resolve this issue, Marecki notes, ProxiGroup adjusted the tagging location to the edge of the packaging so as to provide separation between the tag and the packaging. The company used on-metal tags from Comex. In addition, it attached two RFID tags to each package, one on each side, so that RF transmissions would not need to pass through the package itself. "We also adjusted the mounting of two antennas in each read zone," he adds.

ProxiGroup customized the tag ID to reflect the same nomenclature used for the product's lot number. When each tag is produced, the ID and lot number for its corresponding item is created in the software, and the lot number is then added to the Electronic Product Code (EPC) number written to the tag. The software creates a digital twin in the warehouse with 3D zones, in order to provide a view into where each product was last detected and, therefore, the zone in which it can be found. The CAD-based mapping also enables users to change their zones quickly, Shull says, when operations require changes within facilities.

The company is now reviewing the results and waiting for management decision about financing the system. "The profit we could have would be automization of the process" involved in tracking products, Kolinski says. Currently, the firm employs two staff members to manually track the paperwork indicating which products are being produced and where they are being transported. It could also reduce the risk of errors in identifying products for shipping, he says.

"From my point of view, the technology is really useful, especially for our forklift drivers," Kolinski says, "so they can see where in the warehouse the product is." The pilot also found that the time required for workers to search for a specific product within a given zone was reduced from several minutes to several seconds.

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