Home Internet of Things Aerospace Apparel Energy Defense Health Care Logistics Manufacturing Retail

Access This Premium Content

Options To Access This Article:

What Subscribers Are Saying

  • "Probably the best investment I've ever made."
    Steve Meizlish, President & CEO, MeizCorp Services, Inc.
  • "I have found that RFID Journal provides an objective viewpoint of RFID. It you are looking for a resource that provides insights as to the application and implications of deploying RFID, RFID Journal will meet your needs, It gives you a broad perspective of RFID, beyond the retail supply chain."
    Mike O'Shea, Director of Corporate AutoID/RFID Strategies & Technologies, Kimberly-Clark Corp.
  • "No other source provides the consistent value-added insight that Mark Robert and his staff do. In a world dominated by press release after press release, RFID Journal is developing as the one place to go to make the most sense out of the present and future of RFID in commerce."
    Bob Hurley, Project Leader for RFID, Bayer HealthCare's Consumer Care Division
  • "RFID Journal is the one go-to source for information on the latest in RFID technology."
    Bruce Keim, Director, Hewlett-Packard
  • "RFID Journal is the only source I need to keep up to the minute with the happenings in the RFID world."
    Blair Hawley, VP of Supply Chain, Remington Products Company

Nerves of Steel

Manufacturers and suppliers that deploy RFID to track and manage steel slabs, pipes and other assets say the benefits are well worth the work.
By Jennifer Zaino
Mar 07, 2015

Steel manufacturers have been slow to embrace radio frequency identification technology. In addition to the usual barriers, including cost and a resistance to change, there has been concern that RFID doesn't work on or near metal or in harsh environments. But like other manufacturers, steel producers are plagued by the inefficiencies that affect inventory, logistics and supply-chain management. So ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe, one of the world's largest steel producers, ignored all the usual arguments for not deploying a new technology and, in 2007, announced it was using ultrahigh-frequency RFID tags to track 30-ton steel slabs from Brazil to its German processing factories.

This proved to be a solid investment and the beginning of the company's engagement with the technology. Today, RFID forms the core of ThyssenKrupp's centralized services solutions for tracking and tracing steel across a multinational supply chain composed of its own and third-party facilities in five locations: its plants in Duisburg, Germany, and Sepetiba, Brazil; a receiving factory in Alabama that ThyssenKrupp owned at the time; and cross-shipping seaports in Mobile, Alabama, and Rotterdam.

RFID vendors have developed a variety of tags that work well on steel surfaces and embedded in steel products. (Photo: ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe)
Since that initial deployment, vendors have developed a variety of RFID tags that work well on steel surfaces and embedded in steel products, says Loïc Feinbier, head of business process outsourcing management at ThyssenKrupp's Global Shared Services group, who spearheaded the company's first foray into RFID. But, he adds, rarely will the same tag suit every application and, in any case, getting the tag right is just part of the job. The rest is building a process around the technology. "That's what makes steel today so hard and so much of an effort," he says. "People are not necessarily willing to invest time and money to develop the solution."

RFID also plays a role in improving operations at ThyssenKrupp's factories, where steel slabs are turned into products, such as coils for the automotive industry. Other steel companies involved in manufacturing or finishing work are piloting RFID for inventory and supply-chain management. In addition, steel producers are improving customer service by tracking pipes and other structural steel products shipped to construction and oil and gas sites.

Linking the Steel Chains

It took nearly three years from ThyssenKrupp's initial pilot to develop a total solution, which addressed both technology and business issues. The company determined which RFID tags and readers to use, and how to affix them to objects to ensure identification accuracy. Each RFID tag is programmed with a unique identification number, based on GS1's Serialized Global Trade Item Number (SGTIN) standard. Additional information, including steel grade and slab dimensions, is printed on the label. The work also required building applications, creating logic rules to drive down misreadings, and enabling IT systems integration capabilities that span its own and its partners' systems, Feinbier says.

Developing a global solution presented several challenges, says Heiner Niehues, one of Feinbier's first hires and now ThyssenKrupp's head of supply-chain visibility/RFID. Each port through which steel shipments pass uses a different crane type, so reader-mounting installations had to be customized for each location, and ultrahigh frequencies and power emissions had to be optimized for use in different countries.

When large slabs of steel are being cross-shipped, "identification has to be real fast or a ship would lie longer in the port," Niehues says. The longer it takes to unload a ship, the more costs add up. RFID offered real value over using bar codes or manual approaches to understanding inventory movements at ports.

Implementing RFID was a challenge, because it had to deliver speed and accuracy in a complex environment, with "assets coming out of chaotically organized storage in the vessel," Feinbier says. "This took a massive amount of effort to figure out on our own because there was no leader or software in the market to do it."

To continue reading this article, please log in or choose a purchase option.

Option 1: Become a Premium Member.

One-year subscription, unlimited access to Premium Content: $189

Gain access to all of our premium content and receive 10% off RFID Reports and RFID Events!

Option 2: Purchase access to this specific article.

This article contains 2,993 words and 5 pages. Purchase Price: $19.99

Upgrade now, and you'll get immediate access to:

  • Case Studies

    Our in-dept case-study articles show you, step by step, how early adopters assessed the business case for an application, piloted it and rolled out the technology.

    Free Sample: How Cognizant Cut Costs by Deploying RFID to Track IT Assets

  • Best Practices

    The best way to avoid pitfalls is to know what best practices early adopters have already established. Our best practices have helped hundreds of companies do just that.

  • How-To Articles

    Don’t waste time trying to figure out how to RFID-enable a forklift, or deciding whether to use fixed or mobile readers. Our how-to articles provide practical advice and reliable answers to many implementation questions.

  • Features

    These informative articles focus on adoption issues, standards and other important trends in the RFID industry.

    Free Sample: Europe Is Rolling Out RFID

  • Magazine Articles

    All RFID Journal Premium Subscribers receive our bimonthly RFID Journal print magazine at no extra cost, and also have access to the complete online archive of magazine articles from past years.

Become a member today!

RFID Journal LIVE! RFID in Health Care LIVE! LatAm LIVE! Brasil LIVE! Europe RFID Connect Virtual Events RFID Journal Awards Webinars Presentations