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U.K. Seal Maker Puts RFID to the Test

AESSEAL assessed EPC Gen 2 tags and interrogators at GS1 UK's new RFID test center, with plans to deploy the technology to speed up the time needed to receive and locate products.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 11, 2007After several years spent following RFID's growth and considering using the technology to track its products as they come from Asia into U.K.- and U.S.-based distribution centers, AESSEAL, a British maker of mechanical seals, evaluated RFID at a new EPCglobal RFID Test Center in Winsford, Cheshire. Last month, AESSEAL tested EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and interrogators in a setting that simulated one of its typical warehouses, to determine whether RFID could speed up the time required to receive and locate products. During the tests, tags were read successfully 95.5 percent of the time, says Stuart Welsh, head of IT at AESSEAL, adding that the results were very encouraging.

The center, which opened Nov. 15, is hosted by Intellident as a GS1 UK service. The facility is designed to help organizations such as AESSEAL understand the business benefits that can be achieved from RFID, including cost savings, improved accuracy and increased efficiency.

David Lyon
AESSEAL markets its seals and seal parts to chemical processing plants worldwide. Most of the products are low-margin items selling for about $10 to $20 apiece, Welsh says. These items move quickly and in large volumes—tens of thousands can pass through a single distribution center each month, he says—and if employees are unable to locate a particular item, they might assume it to be out of stock. Unwilling to wait, the customer might then turn to a competitor for the part.

AESSEAL currently uses bar-coded labels to identify and track its products. In China, the product manufacturer affixes a bar-coded label to each item, linking the bar-coded number to the product's serial number in AESSEAL's back-end system. When the items arrive at the distribution center, employees scan the bar codes to create a record of the parts' arrival. But the required line-of-sight scanning makes capturing each bar-code number time-consuming, Welsh says, and checking in a large order can sometimes take several weeks.

For that reason, Welsh says, AESSEAL has spent three years searching for a system that could improve the visibility of goods moving between the manufacturer and the distribution centers, and that could also increase the efficiency and accuracy of its supply chain management, both in and out of the DCs. RFID promised to eliminate the manual bar-code scans, Welsh explains, and instead allow workers to document incoming goods by driving forklifts loaded with tagged products through RFID portals.

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