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The RFID Brick Road

Columbus Brick is using a real-time locating system to more efficiently manage inventory and the location of goods in its brickyard.
By Bob Violino
Apr 07, 2008Columbus Brick Co. began business in northern Mississippi in 1890, making and selling clay bricks formed in wooden molds and hardened by blazing hot coals. Back then, the company's products were delivered to commercial and residential customers in surrounding areas by rail cars, steamboats and mules, with thousands of bricks unloaded by hand each day.

More than 100 years later, the Columbus, Miss., company is still in the business of making and selling bricks, shipping more than 140 million bricks per year throughout the Southeast and Midwest. But its methods of manufacturing products, delivering them to customers and keeping track of inventory and the location of goods in its yard have all changed. The latter process has been enhanced considerably by RFID technology.

Bricks for the construction industry, typically packaged in strapped loads of about 500 per cube, are transported to outdoor brickyards, where they're subject to inclement weather, dust and dirt.

Columbus Brick is using a turnkey system from Stark Solutions, a software developer and systems integrator located in Greenville, S.C., specifically designed for tracking brick and refractory products (materials designed to withstand high temperatures). The 2007 deployment of the RFID-based system, known as HackTrac, has led to several benefits, such as reduced load times for products, and the company expects to see considerable cost savings from more efficient use of equipment and labor resources in its brickyard.

Stark Solutions had initially approached Columbus Brick about the technology several years earlier, but company officials didn't think they could justify buying the system to track products at that time, says Butch Reed, Columbus Brick's sales manager. As inventory expanded and inefficiencies in the brickyard became a growing problem—forklift drivers spent too much time searching for particular types of bricks, for instance—the brick maker's managers realized they needed to more efficiently manage their inventory to ensure customer satisfaction.

Columbus Brick serves the residential and commercial construction industries, selling bricks through distribution channels to builders and contractors. Commercial building customers, in particular, must have the appropriate products delivered in the correct quantities, or else face higher on-site labor costs and possible construction delays. The brick maker again met with Stark Solutions in May 2007 and began testing the system in August, before going live with it a month later.
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