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Metal Finishing Co. Makes Monitoring Work-in-Progress More Efficient

Thanks to the newly RFID-enabled Lexmark T654 laser printer, the Wichita-based company expects to further streamline the way in which it tracks the items it tempers, plates, paints or peens.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 03, 2009Metal Finishing Co., a Wichita, Kan., metal plating and finishing firm for the aerospace and agriculture industries, will begin employing a newly released ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID encoder installed in a Lexmark T654 monochrome laser printer to track the movement of products throughout its facility. The RFID-enabled T654 printer, Metal Finishing indicates, offers flexibility other RFID printer-encoders do not yet provide, thereby enabling the firm to print multiple documents with some pages containing an adhesive RFID label, and other pages consisting of inexpensive plain paper. The device will also allow the company to dictate the RFID inlay's position on a page, as well as its orientation—either vertical or horizontal. The resulting flexibility, the company explains, will make it easier for Metal Finishing to print the combination of tags and documents it requires to track its production processes, without spending time and money printing tags on an RFID printer-encoder and printing plain documents on another printer.

Each day at its facility, which covers more than 1 million square feet of space, the company processes hundreds of orders and thousands of parts, such as bushings and landing-gear assemblies. Its customers are typically machining shops that send metal parts to Metal Finishing for the finishing work, then sell them to aerospace and agriculture customers upon receiving the completed product back from Metal Finishing.

Just like an ordinary paper drawer, the optional UHF RFID tag encoder slides into the T654 printer.
According to Rob Babst, Metal Finishing's CEO, the company uses the RFID-enabled T654 printer in conjunction with an RFID system the firm installed last year to track the progress of its orders, as well as provide updates regarding orders for its customers on an Internet portal. Prior to deploying the RFID-enabled T654 printer, the firm employed one device to print paperwork and a second machine to print and encode EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID adhesive tags that it attaches to items as they arrive at the facility, as well as to related documents, so it can then follow them through finishing process until the products are shipped back to customers.

RFID interrogators throughout the facility capture the tags' unique ID numbers as the items pass through the finishing process, not only allowing for status updates on particular orders, but also helping the company track the productivity of its operations and identify any bottlenecks. Using RFID in combination with software provided by Chicago-based American RFID Solutions (ARS), residing on the firm's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, Metal Finishing has not only been able to improve the effectiveness of its finishing processes, but it can also let customers log into a special section on the firm's Web site to learn about the status of their orders. With the RFID system, a user can enter an item's tag ID number to see what process that item most recently completed, in addition to which actions remain to be taken before it is shipped.

"We had tracked everything on paper; then we evolved to a bar-code system, relying on manual scans," Babst says, describing the system the company used prior to adopting RFID in summer 2008. "That can sometimes be problematic," he adds, since bar-coded labels did not always get scanned, and manually scanning them was time-consuming.

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