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German Label Manufacturer Boosts Shipments

Herma is using RFID tags and readers to track the locations of adhesive labels within its warehouse, based on the whereabouts of forklifts that pick up and deposit the pallets loaded with those labels.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 22, 2011Since implementing a real-time location system (RTLS) last June, Herma, a German manufacturer of adhesive labels, has increased the number of pallets that it ships daily by 67 percent, to 500, while also reducing the quantity of shipping errors reported by its customers each month from 50 down to 7. The solution that helps the company accomplish this improved efficiency and error reduction, provided by Ubisense, does so not by tracking the locations of pallets loaded with product as they move through the facility to awaiting trucks, but rather by tracking the forklifts that transport them.

Herma, based in the city of Filderstadt, is one of the largest label manufacturers worldwide, and continues to increase its production of self-adhesive products for use in offices, schools, printing shops and homes. The firm sells its products to customers throughout the world in the form of large rolls. When the products are shipped, the rolls—which are typically several feet in size—are loaded onto pallets and stretch-wrapped. Next, a bar-code label is attached to the stretch-wrap surrounding each pallet, which is then scanned to link that pallet with a particular product loaded onto it, as well as with the order it will fulfill. The pallet then moves several times through the warehouse, until a truck arrives to transport it to a customer.

Herma installed two dozen RFID readers in the ceiling area of its warehouse.

To identify the proper pallet and ensure that it is being loaded onto the correct truck, a forklift driver read the serial number printed on the pallet's bar-coded label (for redundancy's sake, each bar-coded label was also printed with the same serial number in human-readable form). The driver then compared that serial number against those listed on the order's paperwork. This, however, was a slow process that allowed mistakes, says Frank Baude, Herma's manager of logistics and customs, since many products on the pallets look the same and are thus difficult to differentiate without utilizing a bar-code scan.

Ubisense—according to Holger Hartweg, the company's account manager—met with Herma in 2009 to discuss an automated solution using Ubisense's battery-powered RFID tags that would help Herma's staff locate loaded pallets and ensure that the right product was being loaded onto the correct truck. "We thought we'd put a tag on each pallet," he explains, "and each time a pallet came from production, we could read the label." The cost of installing a Ubisense battery-powered tag onto each pallet, however—which would be shipped out and not returned—made this plan too expensive. "We needed a good way to get tags back from the pallet," he says, but could not figure out a method for doing so.

Herma's Frank Baude
Instead, Ubisense and Herma came up with a new plan: using Ubisense RFID tags and readers to track the whereabouts of forklifts as they move the pallets, thereby recording where in the warehouse a pallet was picked up and deposited, and thus indicating the product's location. The resulting solution included the installation of two dozen Ubisense sensor nodes (readers) on the ceiling throughout the 750-square-meter (8,703-square-foot) facility, as well as fitting each of its seven forklifts with four Ubisense tags and a terminal with a display screen for providing instructions and location data to drivers. Ubisense software handles the flow of information to and from the forklift readers, while Herma's SAP-based back-end software manages the company's order data, as well as the location and identity of each pallet, based on the Ubisense solution.

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