FineLine RFID Production Expansion Aims at CPG Companies

By Claire Swedberg

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  • Global service bureau FineLine has expanded its Missouri facility to meet the needs of consumer product manufacturers who are new to RFID and demand a variety of label types and support.
  • The expanded facility opened for business in February, and offers labels and support as companies meet RFID tag requirements for the first time.

A wide variety of products—from car parts to toys—are being tagged with UHF RFID labels. And FineLine’s 25,000 square foot production site expansion in Missouri is aimed at serving this growing demand.

As many consumer product goods (CPG) companies confront RFID tag deployment on their products for the first time, FineLine Technologies is expanding its Data2 facility in Missouri to meet the growing, and diversified, business demand.

The RFID and barcode tagging service bureau has sites around the world, but CPG companies in North America are recently placing a unique new demand for RFID tagging functionality, FineLine’s chairman and CEO George Hoffman said.

So in February, FineLine opened an expansion to its O’Fallon site, with an additional 25,000 square feet of space to make it a 50,000 square foot facility. Additionally, the company acquired $2.5 million worth of new equipment to print and encode a wide variety of RFID tags.

With the expansion, the company now has a total of 130,000 square feet of production space in the U.S. and intends to serve the growing market demand for companies that make everything from bird seed to bicycles or candles with the additional RFID converting equipment and functionality.

Two Decades with Centralized Focus

FineLine prints and encodes RFID sensors, along with providing adhesives and graphics printing. It can offer RFID inlay integration of dry inlays for customized label designs, high speed RFID encoding and verification, engineered multilayered label constructions, and high capacity and quick-turn RFID label finishing. The two-decade old company serves manufacturers worldwide and assists its customers through RFID labeling requirements and qualification process at Auburn’s RFID lab.

In 2017, the company acquired Data2 Corporation, another service bureau, where the now expanding manufacturing site is located. FineLine reports that its new addition this spring makes it the largest RFID and barcode service bureau in the US.

The company has historically focused on the data management side of the RFID tags it produces, with a series of investments in its IT platform.

Worldwide Capabilities

FineLine owns all its print facilities on each continent and all are linked to a centralized hub that manages each print engine and encoding machine. Hoffman likens it to a mothership that oversees orders and ensures quick turnarounds, wherever the orders are being fulfilled.

“We have real time information on what’s being printed every single second of the day,” Hoffman said.  “We do a lot of very complicated data management systems,” for a wide variety of customers who in some cases have multiple banners and multiple geographic locations.

As a result, he said the company can fulfill an order within about 48 hours.

A New Market with GPG Companies

Recently the market for RFID tags has been expanding and diversifying, the company noted. “For a long time our geographic expansion has been to support apparel,” Hoffman said, with RFID tags being applied to hangtags or price tickets on apparel that was often being manufactured in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey.

In 2022, Walmart issued a mandate that requires certain consumer product goods manufacturers, who sell products to the retailer, adopt RFID tags. Other retailers are seeking similar efforts by their own suppliers including Marks & Spencer, Macy’s, Target and Sam’s Club.

Those actions have brought a new kind of customer to service bureaus like FineLine: companies that are learning about RFID, often for the first time. These are often large manufacturers with high volume and complex production sites, based in the U.S., with a wide variety of tagging challenges.

Many of these companies demand 100 precent effectiveness in their tagging process and tag readability as well.

New Equipment for Diversity of Tagging

RFID tags used for non-apparel, integrated prime labels often require a four-color process, rotary label that can be automatically applied in a fast-paced production process. To serve this demand, Hoffman said “we really had to construct a manufacturing center that was geared towards quick turn, high volume consumer products type item tagging.”

One way that FineLine sees itself as a differentiator for the CPGs is the real-time view into every print and encoding machine that’s running.

“If somebody wants to know something about a particular order, where it is on the floor, we have that information on every ticket we’ve produced,” Hoffman said, adding the company retains that information for both RFID and 2D barcodes. “We track everything when it was shipped and also when it was received at vendors so … we can give customers a complete view.”

Ability for Quick Turnaround

The 48-hours turnaround is enabled by this approach because there’s little human intervention required to launch the order.

For CPGs new to the technology, FineLine offers tagging recommendations, testing support, and support to ensure the tags are compliant with retail requirements and category codes. FineLine also offers quality control software so that a product vendor can read the labels to make sure they are serialized, and can be read, properly.

It’s a different kind of customer, Hoffman points out. “These big suppliers are really like retailers in themselves, they control their own supply chain [for] their own products, and they have their own application,” that can require a level of customization. They may have a unique production line, running at a particular speed, and there may be a dozen or more different products being manufactured there.

“It’s not one-size-fits-all [challenge] for RFID tagging, those days are gone.”

New to RFID

For companies new to RFID, it could be about six months from the first inquiry into RFID tagging, to completing the necessary testing, technology selection and certification.

The Data2 site, since the expansion went live, can accomplish about a billion tickets a year, the company estimates, but with more equipment that capacity could increase.

“It’s pretty flexible with lots of room for expansion,” Hoffman said.

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