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Slate Maker Adopts System to Track Products, Even When Buried Under Snow

Norwegian company Minera Norge is using EPC RFID and GPS technologies to locate its finished stone tiles and blocks, as well as the forklifts that transport them.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 21, 2010Minera Norge, a Norwegian firm that manufactures slate tiles and other products, is employing an RFID-based system known as SuperDAGFINN, provided by ACT System Skandinavia, to identify stone products after they are produced. The system enables the staff to track the exact locations of forklifts, as well as monitor where they place those products, using GPS units that identify each vehicle's longitude and latitude. That information is then transmitted to the company's back-end system in real time.

Minera began utilizing the system in May 2009, with incremental additions as employees have gotten accustomed to using it. Initially, the firm began by simply attaching EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to pallets. Currently, however, the system is being used to track pallets from the time they are loaded with product until they are shipped, says Knut Fossum, the copany's manager of production. The system helps the firm reduce errors, such as incorrect shipments and lost products.

On their onboard computer screen, forklift drivers can view a map indicating where tagged pallets are located, as well as their own position.

Minera Norge cuts slate rock into tiles and blocks used for flooring, walkways, roofing and other applications. These products are then stored in an outdoor yard on pallets, where they await shipment. Because of the yard's size—more than 20,000 square meters (215,280 square feet)—and large quantity of products stored therein, the company could easily lose track of pallets loaded with a particular order. In the winter, the firm reports, the problem can be exacerbated, as the pallets are often buried under a layer of snow. So far this month, there has been approximately 1 meter (3.3 feet) of snow over the products in the yard, according to Jan Erik Evanger, ACT System Skandinavia's managing director.

The company initially considered a bar-coding solution, but that would require an employee to climb down from his forklift, brush snow or dirt off the bar-code labels and then read them with a scanner in order to determine what a particular pallet was loaded with, and whether it was the one he was seeking. Instead, the firm installed the ACT system, which includes RFID interrogators on the manufacturing conveyors, as well as on the forklifts. ACT's SuperDAGFINN software integrates with Minera's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, where its VISMA software, provided by Amesto, stores information regarding shipment orders and their status, such as completed, in storage or shipped.

Once an order of finished product is loaded on a pallet and weighed, an Intermec RFID portal reads the ID numbers encoded to the pallet's tags.
Typically, eight stonecutters work alongside the conveyor at any given time. Each worker first uses an ID card to log himself in to Minera's ERP system at a station that includes a touch screen to display data for the manufacturing staff, the PC where the ERP software resides and an RFID reader. The ID badge has an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tag embedded in it, and the interrogator captures its ID number, which links to the employee's name in software, thereby logging that individual in for work. The employee can view a list of orders to be completed and then press his chisel against a prompt on the touch screen to indicate he has taken a specific job, and to request the stones he would need to cut into products to fulfill that order.

Data regarding the product, order and customer are stored in Minera's VISMA ERP software. That information links to the ACT software, which displays the orders on the screen, as well as manages data related to RFID reads on the assembly floor. The employee cuts the stone into tiles or other products, and those finished products are then loaded onto pallets. Each pallet has a UPM Raflatac UHF Gen 2 RFID tag attached to one corner, encoded with a unique ID number and printed by SATO printers.

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