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Toshiba Laptop Plant Raises Productivity

The company's RFID system, installed in Germany last summer, is already paying dividends, increasing worker productivity by almost 60 percent.
By Beth Bacheldor
Nov 13, 2006Toshiba is using UHF Gen 2 RFID tags to track laptops as the company processes them through its plant in Regensburg, Germany. So far, the technology is reportedly boosting worker productivity, easing bottlenecks and improving order fulfillment. The plant configures, then ships out, about 9,500 custom computers a day to customers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

This summer, the computer maker's $54.2-billion-a-year European division began installing Sensormatic SensorID Agile 2 Readers from Tyco's ADT division; B-SX4 RFID label printers from Toshiba TEC; and UPM Raflatac's Rafsec G2 Short Dipole tags. Production employees affix the labels to each laptop's box during packaging. The implementation went live last month, according to Mike Keane, Toshiba's European product manager.

The Regensburg plant has increased productivity by 57 percent by reducing the amount of time it takes employees to receive a shipment of laptops. Prior to the RFID deployment, workers had to scan each laptop’s bar-coded label manually as they came into the distribution warehouse on pallets. No pallet could move to the next stage until all laptops—36 per pallet—were scanned. Now, each pallet moves through an RFID-enabled gate situated in a corridor between the production area and the distribution warehouse. The gate's RFID interrogator automatically reads unique identification number of all the laptops' RFID tags, then transfers that RFID data to a PC, through either a wired or wireless Ethernet connection.

Engineers at the Regensburg plant developed an interface to the plant's Linux operating system and the RFID reader. Toshiba also interfaced the RFID reader to the plant's back-end Oracle database to store the RFID data and update production, order fulfillment and shipping systems, Keane says. For now, Toshiba is not sharing the RFID data with any suppliers, customers or other business partners. Still, Keane says, "As it is EPC Gen 2-based, the system is ready to be used in other supply-chain systems."

According to Keane, the RFID tags have cut by 90 percent the overall time required to process laptops through the warehouse, from receipt to shipment. RFID is also helping Toshiba store laptops more efficiently that are ready for shipment.

The number of tags Toshiba will use is dependent on sales, but the Regensburg plant currently tags 9,500 laptops per day, using about 2 million tags annually. Toshiba believes that by year's end, daily volume will rise to an average of 15,000 tagged laptops per day, with an expected peak daily output of up to 30,000 units. Since every laptop coming out of the Regensburg plant will be tagged, that could ultimately mean up to 4 million RFID tags annually.
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