Kathrein Targets Logistics for Smart Shelf Solution

By Claire Swedberg

The company is working with warehouses and suppliers to provide a kanban-based solution employing its ARU 2400 reader with FAKRA connectors that enable the quick connection of up to 24 additional antennas to capture automated tag reads on shelves.


Several automotive companies have already been using kanban solutions by which containers and returnable transport items (RTIs) are usually recorded manually. Kathrein Solutions has now launched what it calls a fully automated kanban system with a reader and linked shelf antennas so that users can automatically place supply-replenishment orders. The company offers its ARU 2400 Antenna Reader (released in 2019), along with the daisy-chain funtionality of the smart-shelf antenas—with a connection functionality for fast installation—for the manufacturing and logistics envirornments.

The core application for logistics will center around Kathrein’s electronic kanban solution, in use at several automotive manufacturing sites, but the latest version can also be leveraged by logistics and other vertical markets, such as health care. With the system in place, users can daisy-chain as many as 24 of Kathrein’s SmartShelf SMSH antennas—in strips of eight, attched to three external antennaconnections—on the ARU 2400, in order to enable a total of 25 antennas (one is built into the ARU 2400). The FAKRA automotive-grade antenna connectors are intended to make that installation straightforward for end users or systems intergrators.

Kathrein’s ARU 2400 reader

The RFID reader system is designed to be mounted on production racks for automative manfaucturing companies. It consists of the ARU 2400 reader and cascaded antenna modules mounted directly to the shelves. Each antenna can identify the tags of containers placed on a corresponding spot on the shelf. The solution is designed for easy retrofits onto existing shelves for the management of supplies, the company explains. In fact, says Michael Kaiser, Kathrein Solutions’ partner-management and product-management director, the ability to be retrofitted on shelves was a key request by the assembly plant customers.

The system brings visibility into supply levels via the kanban method. If a box of screws, bolts or other supplies is emptied, that box is removed and the box stored behind it is accessed for supplies. The empty box must then be refilled and returned to the shelf. With RFID tags on each box, and with the ARU 2400 reader and associated shelf antennas deployed, notification as each box is emptied becomes automatic.

Kathrein’s CrossTalk software captures data related to each tag read. If a box’s RFID tag is being interrogated by the smart-shelf antenna, the system knows that it has not yet been emptied. A worker can remove that box, after which the tag ID will no longer be captured and the CrossTalk software will identify that event. The software can also identify if an empty box is placed on a specific return spot on the shelf, then send an automated replenishment order to the warehouse staff or to suppliers. The solution’s Crosstalk Agent feature connects the device to the cloud, where data is managed based on the CrossTalk AppCenter. The software operates not only with passive RFID, but also with barcodes and real-time location system (RTLS) technology.

The CrossTalk system has to fulfill three tasks, the company reports. The main task of CrossTalk Agent is the transmission of workflow data to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This happens in real time, with a defined data structure, so that the ERP system recognizes it immediately. Second, CrossTalk Agent connects the device via the cloud to the CrossTalk AppCenter to monitor the function and connectivity of the devices. An error handler reports if the device is not online or cannot deliver the data. The third feature is a visualization option in the CrossTalk App Center to show where the read event occurred

The CrossTalk AppCenter provides standardized templates in device management, Kaiser says, adding, “It advises the reader what to do and how to do it.” CrossTalk also enables users to view the flow of goods. A virtual map that displays what is stored can be expanded to show read points in a global, national or regional view. Users can zoom into a building, then display the shelves and enable responses to basic questions, such as, “Where are my parts?”

The benefits of this system can be realized at the logistics level as well, Kaiser notes. For example, data can be recorded with zone-based location using fixed RFID gates. Important goods or express deliveries can be detected in smart shelves with pinpoint accuracy, he says. “In this way, the reading accuracy can be used where it is needed and, at the same time, standard processes are mapped via standard readers. Both are visualized and controlled by CrossTalk.” This solution is used by suppliers or in automotive assembly plants. “We can also do the same for finished goods,” he states, such as managing goods stacked on shelves at an assembly site for shipping purposes, and then removed as they are ready for shipment to a customer. Tags could be applied either to the goods themselves or to the cartons.

The electronic kanban solution with smart-shelf antennas could also manage RTIs, such as containers used to transport food to customers, or spare parts management. Beyond logistics, Kaiser says, customers in the health-care industry are working with Kathrein on applications to manage the movements of RFID-tagged assets, such as bed linens, towels or medication, while beds, wheelchairs or pumps could be detected via zone-based reading. The CrossTalk software uses the EPCIS repository so users can capture, manage and share data in a standardized way, Kaiser adds. What’s more, the technology can enable users to set up alarm triggers.

To enable shelf-level management, the ARU 2400 is designed to accommodate as many as 25 antennas via its antenna connectors. FAKRA connectors make it possible to mount antennas that are daisy-chained, and these can then be connected to the reader with a click. The reader has one antenna built into it, which can be used on a single shelf. The smart-shelf antennas can be installed under the shelf, and each comes with its own input and output connectors to cascade up to eight antennas in a row. “This is one of the big features that can connect with one reader up to 25 antennas with one reader,” Kaiser says.

All readers from the Kathrein RRU 4xxx family are designed to support even more antennas—they can capture data from up to 32 daisy-chained antennas. “The big advantage is I can connect the daisy-chain very easily,” Kaiser states. Each antenna is about 12 inches in length. “All these control signals are also received and sent by the antenna itself,” he adds. The Kathrein Reader Antenna Interface (KRAI) can be used to create command chains for the system. Users can read everything in front of the first antenna, then use a command within the reader to switch to the next antenna, and on through the daisy-chain, thereby creating a bus system between the reader and connected antennas.

“Now we have combined this intelligent shelving for logistics and the FAKRA connectors,” Kaiser says, for very precise locating based on the shelf antennas. Ultimately, he adds, the system provides connectivity for logistics users, with a reduced cost of installation. “With CrossTalk,” Kaiser explains, “we offer very powerful device management. You can have a few hundred smart shelves in your infrastructure [and] have perfect information about the data in your system.”