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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
The RFID-tagged cases are placed on the conveyor system along with the non-tagged ones. Each case passes under an Alien Technology 9780 RFID interrogator mounted above the conveyor. If it has an RFID label, the interrogator reads that label and sends the number to Data-Link, which pulls the GTIN associated with the EPC and forwards a message to the FKI Logistex BOSS sorter control software. The software controls the bar code scanner mounted farther down the conveyor. When the scanner reads the bar code on a non-RFID case, the Boss software sends the GTIN to PkMS, which verifies it as being part of the batch of orders being processed. The case then continues down the conveyor toward a sorting area. If the GTIN is not part of the batch of orders being processed, the Boss software directs the conveyor to send the case to an exception-handling station. When the scanner reads the bar code on an RFID-labeled case, Data-Link gives the Boss software the same "go" or "no-go" command.

At the end of each conveyor, workers remove the cases and build them into pallets. Once full, each pallet is placed on a machine that rotates it as shrink-wrap is applied to secure the cases. The PkMS generates a self-adhesive pallet label with a bar code encoded with a pallet ID associated with the order information and the GTIN of one of the cases it carries. This allows the pallet's tag to be linked with its contents. A worker then attaches that label to the shrink-wrapped pallet.

As with the non-RFID cases, workers stack the RFID-labeled cases onto a pallet. As the pallet is shrink-wrapped, an Alien 9780 interrogator mounted above the shrink-wrap machine reads each case's EPC. Data-Link builds up a manifest of the EPCs on the pallet, then creates a print order for a pallet RFID label and sends it to one of the Zebra R110Xi printer-encoders. The latter device generates a pallet RFID label printed with a bar code encoded with a pallet ID number, and also writes that same data to the label's RFID tag.

As the RFID-labeled pallets are loaded onto a truck for shipment, another Alien 9780 interrogator reads the pallet and case tags. This reader sends its data to Data-Link, which notes the time and location of the reads and forwards them on to PkMS. Once Wal-Mart and Target are ready to associate EPCs with the advance ship notices (ASN), LEGO will begin pulling these EPCs into the ASNs it sends the two retailers. This will enable Wal-Mart and Target to compare the EPCs of the cases and pallets they receive against the EPCs listed on the ASNs.

Deets and McGrath admit they are lucky, in that Lego ships its cases of plastic toys covered in protective air-filled plastic packing material, which causes no RF interference. Unlike many CPS manufacturers who have struggled with RF interference from the liquid and metallic contents of their products, LEGO says it enjoys 100 percent read accuracy at its dock doors. Wal-Mart and Target are also reporting high read rates of the tagged LEGO goods: 99 to 100 percent.

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