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Dow Reveals a Chemical Attraction to RFID

The manufacturer of plastics, solvents and other products is harnessing RFID's power to deliver value to its business and customers.
By Bob Violino
The committee went through a series of exercises based on Dow's Six Sigma quality initiative to get ideas from across the company on potential uses for RFID. A major part of the process was interviewing key managers throughout the organization to determine their requirements and how RFID could help them meet goals.

Based on the information the group gathered, the committee identified 50 high-priority projects to be implemented over the next 10 years, including 10 within the next two to five years. The group conducted an in-depth return on investment analysis for each project, Tolliver explains, concluding that each would deliver payback in a relatively short period of time. Tolliver declines to specify how much Dow is investing in its RFID implementations, saying only that a "substantial" budget has been set up for the next decade.

In 2005, Dow worked with Savi Technology, of Sunnyvale, Calif., to implement the first application, which involved container tracking. This implementation utilized a combination of RFID and bar-coding technologies to track tens of thousands of metal cylinders containing chemicals throughout Dow's global supply chain network. The goal was to enhance the security and visibility of assets and containers as they moved throughout the chain, avoiding problems such as theft, lost shipments and tampering. This replaced an earlier version that also used bar-coded labels but relied on e-mail messages to compile work-process information associated with shipping and receiving product. The new solution utilizes XML file exchanging and leverages Savi's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping capability, as well as its business-rule-based alerting tools, to perform exception monitoring.

Dow applies a unique bar code label to each cylinder, representing the serial number hand-stamped onto the cylinder at the filling location. As 12 cylinders are placed on a pallet, their 12 unique serial numbers/bar codes are associated with a bar code master pallet label. This association streamlines the work process of shipping, receiving and inventory-taking on full pallets of cylinders, as only the master pallet bar-code label needs to be scanned.

An employee at a plant, warehouse or distribution center scans a pallet bar code using a hand-held scanner from Symbol Technologies. In this way, the employee can gather data on all the cylinders associated with that pallet. After the pallets are loaded into intermodal containers equipped with Savi Technology's Savi Sentinel ST-646 active 433 MHz RFID tags, the containers—which are loaded onto shipping vehicles such as trucks or railcars—can then be tracked as they move throughout the supply chain. The tags contain sensors monitoring temperature, humidity and shock, as well as whether the container's security has been breached.

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