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That Competitive Edge

Manufacturers are using RFID in their plants to track work in process, manage assets, reduce errors—and boost their bottom line.
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Feb 01, 2008—Duferco Farrell Corp. operates a plant in western Pennsylvania where it fabricates huge steel slabs, weighing between 24,000 and 53,000 pounds, into the specific grade, size and chemical makeup requested by customers. The slabs are heated and rolled into coils, sometimes 4 or 5 feet wide. The coils often need to undergo other production processes, including being cleaned or coated with a finish. The coils are then transported by truck or rail to industrial customers for the manufacture of automobiles, roofs and a variety of other products.

To keep track of some 6,000 different steel coils at any given time, plant workers use grease pencils to write the customer number and other data on the coils.

When workers need to find a specific order, they climb on top of the coils and look for the numbers, then direct an overhead crane to pick up the steel and move it to the next stage of production. Sometimes the coils that have to be moved to locate a specific order are misplaced, and occasionally workers slip off the coils and are injured.

In October 2007, Duferco piloted an RFID solution to eliminate the time workers spend searching for coils and reduce on-the-job accidents. The coils were identified with passive RFID tags containing customer order numbers, and an ultrawide-band (UWB) real-time location system (RTLS) from Germantown, Pa.-based Multispectral Solutions was installed in the plant.

An overhead crane was fitted with an RFID interrogator to read the tags on the coils, and the crane itself was tracked using the UWB RTLS. When the crane moved a coil into storage, the coil ID number and the storage location were both captured and coordinated in a database so plant workers knew where each coil was located.
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