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SAP & XML Helps Wilson Easily Integrate RFID Labeling

Wilson Sporting Goods produces RFID compliance shipping labels by using printer/encoders that support direct connectivity to its SAP and IBM AS/400 enterprise systems. The system architecture helped the company simplify implementation during a time of IT transition.
May 12, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 12, 2008—Developing RFID shipment labeling capabilities in response to customer mandates is often one of the more challenging projects that IT and business managers face in a given year. Amer Sports, parent company for the Wilson Sporting Goods brand, recently found itself in the position of having to develop RFID labeling capabilities at the same time it was upgrading its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, one of the largest IT projects imaginable. Wilson's shipping operations depend on integration to the ERP system, which added to the challenge of RFID system planning. The company met the challenge in an atypical way -- without adding any middleware, integration servers, or other additional hardware or software layers to its systems.

The solution, which Wilson recently announced with Zebra Technologies, was to use its RFID label printer/encoders to process and format data and label requests generated by the enterprise systems.

Wilson's IT backbone features ERP software from SAP running on IBM AS/400 systems. Wilson needed RFID label output capability before its SAP upgrade would be completed, and did not want to integrate with the ERP system during the transition. Instead, Wilson set its AS/400 system to access customer data needed to create shipping labels and communicate it directly for the printer. Wilson chose XML as the interface between its AS/400 system and the Zebra R110Xi RFID printer/encoders it purchased. The printer/encoders have the native ability to process XML, with no translation software or custom interface development required.

Members of Wilson's IT staff created XML-compatible shipping label templates and preloaded them onto each of the four R110Xi printer/encoders purchased. When RFID shipping labels are needed, the AS/400 communicates the print job and relevant customer data to a printer/encoder over a standard network connection. The printer/encoder parses the XML message, extracts the customer information and other variable data, and populates the pre-loaded label template with the information. Then a shipping label is generated that includes information encoded in RFID and printed in text and bar code.

R110Xi printer/encoders can also support Auto ID Infrastructure (AII), which is SAP's proprietary interface for connecting its software to RFID, bar code, sensor, and other data collection systems. AII supports XML, which allows the AS/400 system to integrate with the software and printer/encoders. Once Wilson's SAP migration is complete, it will drive smart label generation through the AII interface, using the same printer/encoders currently used for AS/400 XML-based label output.

Zebra's XML and AII support are not new offerings, and direct-interface options are also available for other brands of hardware, but there have been relatively few publicized examples of these implementations compared to those that have an additional software or hardware layer between the RFID device and enterprise system. Reader manufacturers have bundled RFID software from IBM, Microsoft, and others into their hardware to simplify integration. Several recent product and partnership announcements highlighted this trend (see RFID Journal LIVE a Signpost of RFID Market Maturity).
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