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EPC Tags Help COVAP Get a Leg Up on Ham Production

The cooperative is tracking ham from the slaughterhouse throughout its various preparation and curing steps.
By Rhea Wessel
Another read point occurs during what is called the batch-transition phase, in which the ham production master decides where to move hams for further curing, based on several parameters.

In addition, if necessary, COVAP may send hams through a classification machine, which determines the meat's classification based on its weight and PH levels. COVAP mounted a reader inside a tunnel through which the product moves on a conveyor. Since COVAP operates many cellars for curing the ham, it decided to use a reader it could move from cellar to cellar rather than installing an interrogator at each cellar entrance. That's why two of the readers are mounted on wheels and outfitted with eight antennas apiece. The interrogator's eight antennas are mounted onto a 12-foot-tall tower (as tall as a rack of hams), and can be moved along the drying racks, which hold 60 hams each. Read rates averaged between 93 percent and nearly 100 percent. During the testing phase, the lower read rates came from the reader on wheels used at the batch transition point. COVAP was able to increase read rates, however, by rotating the rack on which the hams hung, so that each tag passes by an antenna individually.

"Since we do not have a time restraint during production," Tirado says, "this shortcoming in the process facilitates reads and keeps us from having to install more infrastructure."

COVAP used its own software and integrated RFID data into it. Cambridge's Distributed Information and Automation Lab guided COVAP throughout the project and helped manage the project and develop its business cases and key performance indicators (KPIs). The university analyzed the new process, using special simulation software it has developed for this purpose and comparing it with the former bar-code-based process.

According to Tirado, benefits stem from improved product traceability, which helps it save time looking for items and prevents the need to scrap products not properly tracked. In addition, the company has eliminated some manual scanning processes, thereby saving time and money.

COVAP and its partners trained COVAP's employees on the new system. According to Brintrup, they gave special attention to explaining to workers that the new technology was not designed to replace them.

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