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German Baker's RFID Application Is Recipe for Success

Workers at Lebkuchen Schmidt are using tagged mixing kettles to make sure each batch of baked goods has the correct ingredients, in the proper amounts.
By Rhea Wessel
Aug 28, 2006A 1998 RFID application that tracks industrial-sized mixing bowls as they move around the factory floor continues to run smoothly, helping Lebkuchen Schmidt delight sweets lovers with a large palette of baked goods. Based in Nuremburg, Germany, the company turns out gingerbread of all sorts, in addition to almond cookies and stolen (dry German cakes sprinkled with powdered sugar).

Rainer Schmucker, an engineer specializing in food production, led the implementation project nearly eight years ago. He has continued his work as the manager responsible for the company's entire production process—from the mixing of various doughs and baking of breads, to the cooling and packaging of these goods. At present, RFID is used only in the mixing process—not for tracking racks of cooled goods or finished goods—though the company has considered expanding the system.

Rainer Schmucker
At the time of implementation, Lebkuchen Schmidt occasionally faced bad batches of sweets after a worker forgot to add an ingredient, or filled too much or too little of other ingredients, into the 3-foot-high kettles. Schmucker will not say what the error rate was, but indicates the problem was frequent enough for Lebkuchen Schmidt to seek a solution. The company first considered bar-code labels, but rejected the idea because dust from flour and other ingredients could easily cover a label and prevent a bar code reader from scanning it. "RFID was the logical solution, with its contactless data transfer," Schmucker says.

With the help of systems integrator Hermos Informatik, Lebkuchen Schmidt attached 15 transponders to the sides of stainless-steel mixing kettles, though a total of 20 transponders were ultimately used. Workers then pushed kettles on wheels from mixing station to mixing station.

Glass-covered cylindrical 134.2 kHz transponders, 3.85 millimeters wide and 32 millimeters long and made by Texas Instruments, are sealed inside round, white plastic casings 10 centimeters in diameter. The casings keep out dust and grit from the factory line, while keeping transponders dry when kettles are put through their daily high-pressure washing.

Lebkuchen Schmidt is using tagged mixing kettles to make sure each batch of baked goods has the correct ingredients, in the proper amounts.

At the start of the production cycle, each transponder's unique identification code is matched in the system with the batch's recipe. One worker accompanies each batch from beginning to end, visiting up to eight stations (equipped with a total of eight readers). At each stop, a mounted RFID interrogator (reader) reads the transponder automatically, within a range of 20 to 30 centimeters. The readers, specially designed by Hermos for the application, are waterproof in accordance with standards set by the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (VDI), the Association of German Engineers.

Data is processed in the system, which uses Proline software developed by Hermos. Employees receive instructions on a Siemens-made screen about how much of each ingredient to add and which mixing station to visit next. At some stations, ingredients are added by hand; at others, pre-measured ingredients are put in the mix automatically.

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