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Pro-active RFID Policy Reaps Huge Benefits

Adopting a bold, pro-active stance on incorporating RFID into its supply chain has resulted in huge benefits for a US manufacturer of women's apparel -- including demonstrating RFID compliance to major customer Wal-Mart well ahead of the deadline for second wave suppliers. This article is a case study.
Sep 08, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

September 8, 2006—Adopting a bold, pro-active stance on incorporating RFID into its supply chain has resulted in huge benefits for a US manufacturer of women's apparel -- including demonstrating RFID compliance to major customer Wal-Mart well ahead of the deadline for second wave suppliers.

Working with Enterprise Information Systems, Inc (EIS), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Domino Printing Sciences plc, the company has successfully implemented a pilot project that provides integrated product traceability throughout its entire supply chain, from the receipt of raw materials through manufacturing and shipping to delivery at Wal-Mart distribution centers and stores.

The innovative project combines RFID, printer and reader technology with the manufacturer's existing AS/400-based automated data collection systems. Dwain Farley, CEO of EIS, says that the project is "an excellent example of a manufacturer approaching RFID in a planned manner. In particular, it demonstrates what is emerging as a major trend in RFID adoption -- the integration of RFID as a 'partner technology' with a company's existing product tracking processes."

Beyond Compliance

From the outset, the company had clear objectives for the project, including demonstrating RFID compliance to Wal-Mart well before it was necessary, in the belief that being pro-active would further strengthen its relationship with Wal-Mart. However, as well as this compliance it was equally important for the project to explore what additional benefits would flow to the company from RFID implementation. In particular, the company hoped that adding RFID would increase its inventory visibility and tote traceability -- and this has proved to be the case, along with less waste, increased shipping accuracy and reduced labor costs.

Enhancing data collection

The first step for the manufacturer's project team was to contact Enterprise Information Systems, Inc., a Dallas-based systems integrator with RFID experience specific to manufacturing. Because a key issue was determining how incorporating RFID would enhance the client's data collection efforts, EIS began by evaluating the readiness of the current system and the feasibility of integrating RFID.

First, the EIS consultants assessed the company's manufacturing process. This involves receiving raw materials (mainly fabric and fasteners shipped around the world in reusable totes), redirecting those raw materials, receiving back the finished goods and picking finished product for order fulfillment. It uses barcode technology to automate AS/400 transactions in the picking and shipping processes.

EIS quickly determined that implementing its 'Compliance 1st' program would not only provide immediate compliance with the Wal-Mart RFID mandate but also allow for scalability to other process areas that would benefit considerably from the implementation.

Understanding the fundamentals

EIS systems analysts started with the fundamentals of RFID education, making sure that the client's team knew the basics of RFID functionality and the requirements of the Wal-Mart mandate. Understanding these core elements allowed the team to then identify critical areas that would potentially be affected by the RFID implementation. Working on-site with the client's RFID team, EIS documented the established material flow from the receipt of raw goods to the shipping of finished goods, and examined how RFID would affect material movement at each point of activity. EIS was then able to pinpoint how applying RFID tags to the totes would increase visibility throughout the operations.

Once this work was completed, EIS constructed a solution that incorporated the Alien Fixed Station Reader, a Printronix RFID-enabled printer and RFIDTagManager software from epcSolutions, Inc. EIS's RFID Compliance 1st program provided the necessary RFID hardware, software and services to design and deploy a full RFID pilot project.

The RFIDTagManager software ensures accurate label generation by verifying the data on the RFID tags and updating the existing system with transactional shipping data. RFIDTagManager's wizard-based implementation approach makes installation simple and painless, and RFIDTagManager also provides an interface that allowed EIS to integrate the RFID data with the existing AS/400 system.

After completing several analytical phases and with the system set-up complete, EIS then developed a 'tag placement test plan' that included both individual cartons and pallets of cartons. The testing included RFID read range, tag presentation speeds, and tag placement and orientation. RFID-labeled packaged product was stacked on pallets also labeled with RFID tags, and then run through test portals in a variety of configurations. The test results identified the optimal tag placement specific to the client's products and packaging, and highlighted labeling areas to avoid in order to eliminate intermittent read rates.

100% read rate

The testing also incorporated test shipments to a Wal-Mart distribution centre. The initial Wal-Mart shipment involved a number of RFID-tagged cases that received a 100% read rate at the store level and throughout the distribution centre, which was verified through receiving data available from Wal-Mart. On a follow up shipment, the company achieved a 100% read rate at the dock door.

A spokesperson for the client says the company is "delighted with the success of the project. It's delivered everything we hoped for, and more. The decision to work with EIS was absolutely the right one. EIS has exactly the expertise that a company like us needs to implement RFID smoothly and cost-effectively, and they're used to working with manufacturers' in-house people to assess where RFID best fits into existing processes. This helped us identify where we could find a positive return on our investment -- as well as gaining traction with Wal-Mart, we are confident that extending RFID technology to inventory control and within the shipping process will help to increase order accuracy by providing better inventory visibility and order traceability."

Simon King, director of Domino's Integrated Solutions Group says that EIS's work on the project "demonstrates exactly what the EIS acquisition brings to Domino. There is growing demand from manufacturers in all industries for cost-effective integration of RFID into existing production and supply chains, and EIS is already established in this area. The acquisition of EIS enhances Domino's capability in this important market segment."
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