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Schiff Gives RFID a Whirl

The vitamin maker has integrated RFID into its pack-and-ship processes, enabling the company to read EPC tags as pallets revolve while being stretch-wrapped.
By Beth Bacheldor
Feb 23, 2007Schiff Nutrition International is tagging 180 cases per week on several of its nutritional supplements bound for three RFID-enabled Wal-Mart distribution centers.

The vitamin and supplement manufacturer is affixing EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tags on cases of Schiff Move-Free, Schiff Glucosamine and four of the company's other joint-care nutritional supplements. Once tagged, the cases are stacked onto pallets, which are also tagged and stretch-wrapped, then sent to Wal-Mart. Each pallet contains a mix of the six different stock-keeping units (SKUs).

Schiff, based in Salt Lake City, started its RFID project in May 2006 when it learned it would be one of 200 suppliers mandated by Wal-Mart to apply RFID tags to shipments by January 2007. The midsize company, which reported revenues of $178.4 million in fiscal year 2006, didn't hesitate to begin testing RFID, says Rod Farrimond, Schiff's manager of business analysis. "One of the things we've recognized as a company is that the whole industry is looking for a return on investment with RFID," he says. "Still, we know that it is important to serve our customers [retailers] and the consumers with quality products, and Schiff can adapt to reasonable initiatives designed to help improve the entire supply chain and thus improve quality."

Schiff partnered with IBM to design, test and implement its RFID initiative, which included testing at IBM's RFID lab in Raleigh, N.C. Schiff is using Printronix tags and printers-encoders, as well as interrogators from Alien Technology. For the project's middleware, Schiff turned to OATSystems' OATxpress and IBM's WebSphere RFID Premises Server.

After a two-week trial run in late October and early November at its distribution center, Farrimond says, Schiff sent its first RFID-tagged shipment to Wal-Mart on Nov. 17. Since January, the firm has been shipping all orders of the six SKUs to the three Wal-Mart DCs. According to Farrimond, Schiff has been able to read the mixed pallets 100 percent of the time, while Wal-Mart has been getting read rates of 97 percent at its facilities.

Crucial to Schiff's implementation was the ability to integrate RFID into its pack-and-ship processes with minimal interruptions. Farrimond notes that Schiff preferred not to require employees stacking cases onto products to follow any specific rules, such as stacking them so all RFID tags face outward. "I can't have them out there trying to engineer an RF-friendly pallet," he says.

Additionally, the company wanted to be able to read the tags on the cases as the pallet was being wrapped with clear plastic, then aggregate all the tags' unique ID numbers so they could be associated with the unique ID number encoded on the pallet's RFID tag.

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