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RFID Helps Endwave Track Work-in-Progress

The company is utilizing EPC Gen 2 tags to monitor the production of communications hardware for the aerospace and defense sectors.
By Claire Swedberg
Endwave applied Alien Technology Squiggle EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags to the bins that pass through production, as well as on each employee's ID badge. When the company requires a new staff badge, it can input a worker's name into an Internet-based server hosted by Omnitrol. Omnitrol software then instructs a Zebra Technologies RFID printer-encoder, located on Endwave's site, to create a badge by encoding its RFID tag and printing the unique ID number linked to the employee.

When a customer calls in an order, a staff member enters an order number and the requested product type into the Omnitrol server, linking that data with a bin number. The employee then takes an empty bin, fills it with the necessary components for that particular product and scans the bin's RFID tag, linking the order to that RFID number. As the bin passes to a production cell, it is placed on a shelf. The Motorola reader captures the bin's ID number within about 2 feet, then transmits the ID number—along with the time and date—to an Omnitrol application network appliance, which collects data from all of the readers and makes it available in a dashboard format, either on a video monitor attached to the appliance or on Endwave's computers.

The appliance can also send an alert via e-mail to Endwave management if a bin sits for too long on a particular shelf, or if it is taken from a shelf without being returned. What's more, the interrogators capture the unique ID number of each employee badge. That ID number, linked to a specific employee, is stored by the Omnitrol appliance, enabling management to view the history of any order—not only when and for how long it remained at a particular location, but also who had it and how quickly a specific process was completed.

If an employee unauthorized to work on a particular order takes a bin from the shelf, the readers transmit an e-mail alert. Similarly, if there is a problem with an order and it must be sent back to a previous cell for reworking, management can receive an update indicating the product's location.

Endwave expects to see cost reductions comparable to at least one full-time employee, Orain says. Another benefit, he adds, comes from increased customer satisfaction due to faster response times to requests for order status reports. Endwave currently prints daily reports regarding work done on the assembly floor, which provide such analytics as revenue associated with a specific order. Previously, the company created such reports only about once weekly.

According to Orain, the complete solution, including software, RFID readers, printers, installation and training, cost less than $100,000.

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