Pilkington Brasil Tracks Product Packaging via RFID

By Edson Perin

The company has attained supply chain benefits thanks to a solution from SmartXHUB, enabling it to visualize the transportation of goods.

Ed. Note: A version of this article originally appeared at  IoP Journal.

Although it has not yet quantified the gains it has achieved from the use of radio frequency identification technology,  Pilkington Brasil is already celebrating the benefit of understanding the travel cycle of each package used to transport its products. It can now present this data to customers, in addition to knowing if a package is at the company or at a customer's site. The global glass manufacturer for the construction and automotive industries is part of the NSG Group.

According to Perci Afonso Catarin, a supply chain executive at Pilkington Brasil's headquarters in Caçapava, this was the objective of deploying the RFID system, which was provided by  SmartXHUB. Prior to the solution's implementation, he says, the process of monitoring returnable packaging was quite laborious, requiring invoices and paper notes, which resulted in divergences and rework. "The monitoring was basically accomplished based on the quantity of packages sent to each customer, through fiscal control," he recalls. "The internal availability monitoring was carried out by physical inventory counts."

The glass manufacturer for the automotive and construction sectors is adding RFID tracking to its process.

For two years, the company has been attaching smart RFID tags to packaging and then carrying out readings. "At this moment," Catarin says, "the packages that we already have with RFID tags installed are being tracked at the company's exits and entrances, where we have already been able to detect the locations of the packages—if they are with customers or in our plant, if they have not yet been sent to customers, and even packages that are stopped for maintenance."

Once the company has finished adding tags to 100 percent of its packaging, Catarin says, it will be able to obtain a complete overview of the location of packaging in handling cycles. The solution's middleware was developed by SmartXHUB, and this component only reads the tags on the input and output portals. "At one of the factories," he states, "we have an integrated solution with passage sensors to identify on the same portal whether the truck is entering or leaving the factory. The biggest gain we have is with the SmartXHUB Web portal."

According to Catarin, the Web portal inventories the racks owned by Pilkington, which are used to serve its customers. It tracks the racks as they pass between the company and customers, with historical and real-time information; identifies the average amount of time that each type of rack spends inside and outside of the Pilkington site; and counts the number of racks at each customer's location. In addition, the portal segregates the racks for maintenance, as well as manages maintenance activities, and it identifies the racks' life cycles. It then automates the invoice-verification process generated by the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system used by the company, along with each truck's load, by comparing the readings of the tags that pass through the exit portals with the invoice's contents.

Carlos Ribeiro, the CEO of Kissimmee-based SmartXHUB, says the system is integrated with the ERP system from  SAP, in which shipping orders are received and shipments are confirmed via data collectors. "If there are no discrepancies, a command is sent to SAP to issue the invoice," he explains. SmartXHUB performed all development for the project, Catarin adds, from the specifications of software and hardware, validated by the IT team, to structures. "They also installed and configured the software and hardware, as well as personalizing the cloud-computing portal," Catarin says. "As Pilkington had no experience with RFID, this partnership was essential for the implementation."

The readers are installed at the entrances and exits of the Caçapava plant, allowing the company to monitor all packages that arrive at and leave from the plant. "We opted for readers from  Zebra," Catarin says, "as it is a stabilized brand in the market, and they can be used in other units of the group. The composition of readers varies in each portal that we have installed." The RFID tags, customized by SmartXHUB, are returnable and are encapsulated in an ABS plastic box to withstand possible impacts from forklift forks.

The recording of Electronic Product Codes (EPCs) and the printing of barcodes are performed at the same time. Two tags of the same EPC number are placed in each metallic package in order to facilitate the reading inside the truck. This is due to the great interference caused by the load arrangement of the metal racks, where some types are closed with a steel plate in the rear and along the sides. The packages are returnable, so the tags are fixed in place and are only reused in special cases—such as, for example, if a rack is found to be unusable and requires replacement.

"The biggest challenge we had," Catarin says, "was in terms of the time needed to carry out the readings. We have trucks passing through the reading portal, where we must have 100 percent accuracy without stopping the truck. There were several barriers that we had to investigate and find the best way out, such as speed, configurations, positioning of the antennas and types of tags. But we were able to overcome these challenges with the help of SmartXHUB."

In the future, Catarin adds, "We still have to continue installing the tags in 100 percent of our packaging, which is a manual and time-consuming process. In addition, we are working to make interconnections with our system, making it even easier to map the packages." Currently, all trucks that leave the company are moved through an RFID antenna portal, which reads all of the packages on each vehicle. The same process occurs when the trucks return from customer sites.

"The implementation was a great challenge for the company," Catarin states. "This is not a low-cost project, due to the demands of the industrial market and the amount of packaging that we want to map. But today, we have already started to present this result internally, and even to our customers, making the management of the packaging plant more reliable." Ribeiro adds, "The successful use of our RFID platform by a corporation with Pilkington's dimensions and reputation is not only a great honor but a demonstration that we are on the right track in our technological development."