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RFID Brings Relief to Solid Comfort

To ensure orders are complete and accurate, the hotel-furniture maker uses passive EPC UHF tags to track products from the point of assembly to the moment they are shipped, thereby bringing a fast ROI.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 05, 2010Thanks to an RFID system that tracks hotel furniture from the point of assembly until the moment it is shipped to a customer, Solid Comfort has eliminated the need for two full-time staff members, while also reducing the amount of shipment errors and confusion regarding what has been delivered. The system was provided by AbeTech, based in Rogers, Minn.

Solid Comfort had two challenges it wanted to address with an RFID system, explains Ryan Larkin, the furniture manufacturer's VP—locating each piece of furniture (which includes bed headboards, mirrors, desks and credenzas) after it has been assembled but before it is shipped at the company's 100,000-square-foot warehouse in Fargo, N.D.; and tracking when and where orders are shipped, in order to ensure they are complete and accurate. Historically, Solid Comfort had employed two full-time workers to manage that information. One walked throughout the warehouse and production area, tracking which items had been made for any specific order, as well as where they were stored as the orders were prepared for shipment. The other employee monitored the movement of product onto trucks, thereby ensuring the proper quantity of specific goods was loaded onto the correct vehicle.

At Solid Comfort's warehouse, a worker wheels a piece of furniture past an RFID portal and onto a truck.

Even with these efforts in place, Larkin says, things still went wrong. If a hotel received a shipment and believed the quantity of pieces was inaccurate, for example, it would call Solid Comfort and request the items it believed were missing. In some instances, the manufacturer created additional pieces, putting its other production on hold, and shipped them to the hotel. "In that way, it can cost us $500 to replace a $200 piece," he explains—and sometimes, the hotel located the missing furniture after the fact.

So in 2009, Solid Comfort began working with AbeTech to develop a solution. The companies went ahead with the deployment in two phases, Larkin says. With phase one, implemented at the end of last year, tags are attached to pieces of furniture after assembly, and are used to track when the items are complete and placed in the warehouse for shipment. When a hotel places an order, the staff inputs the information in an RFID software application custom-designed by AbeTech, and running on a back-end server. That information also includes the name of the firm that placed the order, along with the time and date when it was placed.

Later, when each piece is fully assembled, the production staff uses a Zebra Technologies RFID printer-encoder to write a unique ID number to an EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tag embedded in an adhesive label, and then print that same ID number, as well as the order information, on the label's front. The tag's ID number, stored in the back-end software, could also be linked to such information as the room in which the piece of furniture should be placed, and on which floor of the hotel, if that level of detail was provided with the customer's order. Employees would then hand-write their own personal ID number on each label.

When the furniture is transported from the production area to the warehouse—typically being pushed on a pallet on wheels—it passes through a portal consisting of an Alien Technology reader wired to the back-end server. The reader captures each tag's unique ID, and the AbeTech software interprets that number, links it to the order number and updates the item's status as having been sent to the warehouse, explains Eric Soderholm, AbeTech's account executive. Every time the portal reads a tag, a 24-inch monitor wired to it flashes green.

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