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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
To analyze the data generated by bar-code scanners and RFID readers, Dow installed a Savi software platform called Chemical Chain of Custody Solution. The company first rolled out the software at Dow's AgroSciences production facility in Pittsburg, Calif. There, thousands of cylinders are tracked from the production facility through the supply chain network. All facilities in this network, whether Dow-owned, public warehouses or non-Dow distributors, are equipped with the same equipment (Symbol MC9060 mobile computers with bar-code scanners) and communicate via the Internet with the Savi-hosted cylinder-tracking Web site. Dow eventually plans to expand the software implementation to other facilities and businesses requiring small-container tracking.

The software includes Savi's SmartChain Asset Management System (AMS), an Internet-based application designed to provide continuous online tracking, security monitoring and management of containers and their contents from the point of origin to their ultimate destination. From the Savi-hosted Web site, authorized Dow personnel and the company's logistic partners and customers can graphically track the whereabouts of all cylinders on a world map based on the last reported location of the containers.

The SmartChain application can match the physical location of a container with shipment documents, inventory records, and routes and destinations. Using defined business rules, the system can detect rule deviations—i.e., when a product or container has not arrived at an expected destination or is in the wrong location—and generate alerts to inform business representatives so appropriate action can be taken.

After conducting a cost analysis of using RFID tags instead of bar codes at the cylinder and pallet levels, Dow determined that the cost did not yet justify tagging at those levels. As tags prices fall, Casto says, Dow will replace bar-code labels with passive RFID tags. The company has already run tests to see if RFID tags could withstand the rigors cylinders go through, such as heavy-duty cleaning and repainting, and the tags were reportedly still readable after the tests.

"We wanted to create a tracking solution for all types of containers—cylinders, trucks, railcars, etc.—that would be capable of handling RFID, GPS and bar code technologies," Casto says.

The cylinder-tracking project is already yielding benefits, including improvements with inventory visibility, product stewardship and security. Dow's customers profit by seeing their specific business activity and shipments.

Dow's work with Savi in establishing container-tracking technology will expand later this year to include other forms of transportation tracking. Pilot projects are underway to use GPS technology to track tank trucks and railcars. These projects will pinpoint geographic locations at both established intervals and on demand. They will also allow for environmental conditions monitoring, such as temperature and pressure, as well as overall container security. Moreover, intermodal containers will utilize Savi's RFID and port infrastructure, combined with GPS coordinates from shipping vessels for complete inventory visibility. The initial focus will be on hazardous materials in all types of containers.

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