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LEGO Puts the RFID Pieces Together

By integrating RFID into its current shipping operations, the company not only is able to comply with mandates from Target and Wal-Mart, it is also saving money and labor compared with a standalone tagging system.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Workers in the Enfield facility process orders in waves. PkMS batches the orders it receives from the ERP, then sends pick orders to the workers based on order deadline and quantity. There are three main types of picking: pulling an entire prebuilt pallet of one SKU from inventory, pulling a prebuilt half-pallet of one SKU from inventory or picking individual cases of different SKUs and building those various cases into pallets. Regardless, all picked orders arrive at a common sorting area, where workers divide them into shipments.

For orders picked by the case, PkMS aggregates all product information, such as the GTIN, needed to create each non-RFID label. If the order was not flagged for tagging, PkMS sends print commands for these labels directly to a label printer. LEGO now has two banks of printers. One is used for non-RFID labels, while the other—a set of Zebra R110Xi RFID printer-encoders—prints the RFID smart labels. Both types of labels are printed with the same basic information: a shipping address, a return address, numbers that reference the order and shipment, and a UCC-128 bar code encoded with the case's GTIN. The RFID labels are also printed with the EPCglobal logo and the hexadecimal representation of the EPC. Workers take stacks of labels from a bank of these printers, go pick cases of product from the DC shelves and place each label on the appropriate case. They then place the labeled cases on a conveyor system, which brings them to the sorting area.

If the order was flagged as requiring an RFID tag, PkMS sends the label information to Data-Link, which generates an EPC for each case, associates the EPC with the other label information and associates all data in a database. Data-Link then sends a print command for each RFID label to one of a bank of six Zebra RFID printer-encoders. Workers pick up the printed labels, then head out to pick each case and slap on the label—just like they would with the non-RFID labels. "The only way the operators on the [DC] floor know they are placing an RFID smart label on a case, rather than a non-RFID bar code label, is that they see an EPC logo [and number] on the label," says McGrath. In this respect, LEGO has achieved its main goal with RFID: to integrate it seamlessly with its existing processes.

Though Target and Wal-Mart do not require LEGO to tag cases of all SKUs the toymaker sends them, McGrath says LEGO is tagging all SKUs in each order for the Sanger and Tyler DCs because it simplifies the tagging process. If workers needed to pick out specific cases within each order to tag, it would disrupt their operations.

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