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Gerolsteiner Unbottles ROI From Its RFID Deployment

To document shipments of goods sent to its customers, the beverage maker installed passive 136 kHz tags in the floor of its distribution center, and interrogators on its forklifts.
By Rhea Wessel
Dec 17, 2007Gerolsteiner Brunnen, a manufacturer of bottled non-alcoholic drinks and mineral water, needed to comply with European Union (E.U.) regulations (EU 178/2002) regarding tracking food and beverages. Two years after implementing an RFID-based system, the German company says it has recouped approximately half its investment, and that the system has required little more than routine maintenance in the interim.

Each day, up to 20,000 pallets move through Gerolsteiner's distribution center in the city of Gerolstein. In April 2005, the company began employing an RFID system that works differently than many similar applications. Instead of placing RFID tags on the pallets, it has embedded passive 136 kHz tags in the distribution center's floor.

A forklift driver takes a pallet from the warehouse shelf and moves it to the loading area.

The project took Gerolsteiner and its integrator, SAP SI—a subsidiary of SAP—about a year to complete, because the company conducted extensive testing on hardware and frequencies. It needed to find a frequency that would enable the tags to work well while the forklifts carried bottles of liquid, and even if a crate of drinks were to spill on the floor.

Gerolsteiner decided to use 136 kHz transponders encased in small glass vials—the same transponders frequently utilized in animal-tracking applications. Measuring 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) long and 3.5 millimeters (0.14 inches) wide, the transponders are set into the ground and covered with a type of plaster. The tags are supplied by Texas Instruments and use a proprietary air-interface standard.

Each pallet is labeled with an EAN 128 bar code, with bar-code scanners installed on the forklift to scan bar codes after a pallet has been picked up. When a forklift driver picks up a pallet, the bar-code scanner identifies it. As the vehicle is driven over the floor tags, an interrogator mounted on the base of the forklift reads the tag. The computer system is updated regarding the specific pallet's location by linking its bar-code number to the RFID tag's ID. "I always know my inventory levels and where my batches can be found," says Roland Keul, Gerolsteiner's head of logistics.

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