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Finnish Furniture Maker Adds Value Through RFID

Martela attaches EPC Gen 2 tags to the desks, chairs and other office furnishings it manufactures, to streamline its ability to take inventory for customers that request it, as well as to provide other services.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 21, 2010Finnish furniture manufacturer Martela is known for its innovative, modern designs. Now, the firm is employing radio frequency identification to innovate the way it manages its operations.

Martela, which is more than 65 years old, has significantly expanded its services over the past 10 years, says Johanna Kemppainen, the company's marketing manager. It not only sells desks, chairs and other utilitarian furniture pieces to office buildings, schools, hotels and other institutional users, but also provides full life-cycle management of the goods it offers.

At a customer’s site, a Martela employee uses a handheld reader to encode a unique ID number to the EPC Gen 2 passive tag attached to each piece of furniture.
"The customer wants more full services," Kemppainen explains. After receiving a furniture order, Martela delivers and installs the requested items at the customer's facility—but the relationship does not end there. As an added service, the firm will return to that client's site on an ongoing basis in order to inventory the furniture, which may be a requirement to comply with government auditing regulations, or simply be done so that the company can track its assets for internal purposes. And at the end of the furniture's useful life—say, when it becomes broken or worn out, or goes out of style—Martela will remove the items and replace them.

While adding these services offered Martela an important competitive edge in the marketplace, Kemppainen says, it also placed a significant labor burden on the company. "We had noticed that inventory was a big task for us," she states. The firm's employees were using a fully manual system for counting furniture inventory at customer locations—not even bar codes were utilized. So when the business decided to look into a means of automating the process, it went straight to radio frequency identification. "RFID was seen as an easier way to complete the inventory," she says.

To date, Martela has deployed its RFID-tracking system for three of its customers. Once a furniture order is placed and delivered to a client's site, Martela's workers attach an adhesive Confidex or UPM Raflatac passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag to an inconspicuous spot on each product, and then use that tag to quickly identify every piece of furniture for the purpose of conducting inventory. While the manual furniture-counting process could take up to 10 minutes per average office room, the adoption of radio frequency identification has reduced the required time to just 10 seconds per room, says Ville Lukkari, the business development manager of Vilant, the RFID systems integrator that developed the solution for Martela.

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