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Conair Uses Its Own RFID Solutions to Expedite Shipments

The U.S. supplier of personal-grooming and kitchen appliances plans to have all of its factories apply EPC Gen 2 tags to individual products by the end of 2010, and is launching a new RFID-based cargo seal.
By Claire Swedberg
Conair is tagging only the master cartons, but not the packaging of individual items within, in order to reduce the labor that would otherwise be expended by Conair's staff. The hair driers arriving at Conair's DC, for example, are already boxed in the master cartons by the appliances' manufacturer in Costa Rica or China, and tagging the items individually would require opening the cartons and, in some cases, removing the products to apply labels. When Conair shipped tagged items to Sam's Club, workers at Conair's South Haven warehouse did, in fact, open each carton and apply tags to the tops of all item boxes contained within (removing the items to apply tags was unnecessary in that case).

Conair's goal is to have the products tagged by the manufacturers, Arguin says, thus reducing the step of applying tags at the South Haven warehouse. In this effort, USA ID's new encoder is being developed in partnership with Adasa, which currently produces mobile RFID interrogators that will be modified for Conair's purposes. Conair and Adasa are jointly developing the new model, which is on wheels and will be designed so it can be rolled to the area where an encoding workstation is needed, and then be put to use with minimal effort by employees at the manufacturing facilities.

The second-generation seal—a steel bolt joined to a 1-inch plastic body—contains an EPC Gen 2 RFID tag with 512 bits of user memory.
The new encoder is designed to be more portable than similar interrogators on the market. It will be battery-operated, inexpensive and work with a wireless, wired or Bluetooth connection, and it will also come with a touch-screen display and accommodate a reel of labels up to 2 feet in diameter.

"Both Adasa and Conair/USA ID believe this device, in combination with our labels, will revolutionize the industry," Arguin states, "by reducing the cost of implementing item-level labeling and make this goal within reach of everyone."

The cart will enable Conair's third-party manufacturers to encode tags with an EPC number and then attach tags by first scanning the bar-coded UPC product number, which triggers the device to encode an RFID label and peel it from the backing. The label can then be applied to the product boxes as the items come off the assembly line, either manually or by machine. In so doing, the products will come to Conair's U.S. warehouses already tagged at the item level. The encoder is being manufactured in Costa Rica, and is slated to be tested for label encoding at Conair's manufacturing facility in that country, in the first quarter of 2010.

For container tagging, USA ID first developed a container seal with a built-in UHF Gen 2 96-bit RFID tag with a unique ID number that links to an electronic manifest on USA ID's server. The seal consists of a 4-inch-long steel bolt that is inserted into a container's door hasp. To seal the door, the bolt locks onto an RFID-enabled body. Once the bolt is married to that body, a fixed or handheld RFID interrogator can be used to read the seal's tag ID number at the point of origin, or at distribution centers as the containers are transported. An external GPS receiver can be integrated in the seal's body.

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