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Beaver Street Fisheries Automates RFID Tagging

The frozen seafood supplier encounters a sea of change as it moves from slap-and-ship tagging to an automated process on the assembly line.
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Mar 12, 2007—More than two years ago, Beaver Street Fisheries, a Jacksonville, Fla., frozen seafood dealer, met its mandate to RFID-tag shipments bound for Wal-Mart Stores ahead of schedule by implementing a slap-and-ship tagging process. Now the company has ramped up production of RFID-tagged seafood by automating the EPC coding and application of tags on several of its assembly lines.

Founded in 1950 as a family-owned fish store, Beaver Street is currently one of the nation's top seafood suppliers. As a result of automation, the company has quadrupled the volume of RFID-tagged products—snow crab blusters, breaded shrimp, catfish nuggets and tilapia—that it ships to Wal-Mart each month, from 5,000 cases in 2004 to its present level of 20,000 cases. The firm also tags 5,000 cases per month for another client piloting RFID technology, which Beaver Street declines to identify.

The automation of RFID tagging has cut down on labor costs associated with the manual slap-and-ship tagging process. Company officials say Beaver Street is now closer to realizing its goal of using RFID to gain business process efficiencies and other cost savings.

Nearly three years ago, Beaver Street officials learned of Wal-Mart's efforts to require suppliers to RFID tag goods destined for the retail giant's distribution centers. Since Beaver Street was not one of Wal-Mart's top 100 suppliers, it wasn't required to meet the retailer's first deadline in 2005. Rather, the company was among its top 300 suppliers, with a 2006 timetable. But Beaver Street executives identified RFID as a way the supplier could increase the volume of its business with Wal-Mart and other buyers, as well as help it leapfrog over generations of technology to reap long-term benefits. By tracking and tracing products electronically, the execs believed Beaver Street could reduce inventory, automate manual shipping and receiving processes, automate billing procedures, reduce theft, track products in the event of a recall, and gain better visibility into how the business could reduce overhead and increase profits.

"We typically have not been as efficient with technology in the past as we could have been," says Howard Stockdale, CIO of Beaver Street Fisheries. The company could have employed bar-code data to track shipments and use the data to automate business processes, but it chose not to invest the time in requiring employees to hand-read bar codes on inbound and outbound shipments. By automating the receiving and shipping process with RFID tracking, Stockdale explains, the business can grow without the need to hire new employees. At the same time, managers can gain a better understanding of where to expand and how to cut costs. "Our goal is to have incredible visibility and traceability all through the supply chain," he says, "which will allow us to manage the business better."

In 2004, Beaver Street decided to institute a three-phase RFID implementation. The first phase, completed in December of that year, consisted of developing a mobile slap-and-ship RFID station that workers could bring to the warehouse, freezers or assembly lines so they could encode Electronic Product Code numbers on RFID labels and hand-apply the labels to cases and pallets for shipment to Wal-Mart. The second phase, which was fully operational at the end of 2006 and is now being tweaked, consists of automating the encoding of RFID tags and label application on the assembly line. A third phase is scheduled to begin later this year, in which a supplier will begin shipping RFID tagged goods to Beaver Street.
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