SIG Gains Productivity, Reduces Paper Use via RFID

By Edson Perin

The implementation of technology from iTag has enabled the identification of packaging used by customers, especially for a company in the dairy sector.

SIG, one of the world's largest providers of carton packaging solutions and filling technology in the food and beverage industry, reports that it has gained benefits from the digitization of processes in Brazil, due to the implementation of a radio frequency identification solution provided by  iTag Etiquetas Inteligentes. "With the initiative, we have gained productivity and reduced the use of paper within the process, in addition to being able to quickly identify packaging using our digital systems," says Rômulo Andrade, the manager of SIG's services area in Brazil, who worked with Carlos Rios, the coordinator of SIG's digital platform.

SIG's customers are present in more than 65 countries and fill more than 10,000 products in more than 50 categories in the company's carton packs. This RFID project started with a dairy company that started receiving RFID tags for better distribution and inventory control—a process monitored by SIG. "RFID is being used to complement the traceability system installed at one of our customers," Rios explains, "where, through labels engraved at our Campo Largo plant [in the Brazilian state of Parana], we are able to link packaging production to tracking data from factory. Before that, such information needed to be stored in daily books with operational notes."

GS1's EPC UHF standard is not being used for this case. "Due to the limited space of each label," Rios says, "we optimize and standardize the information according to our needs." At the Campo Largo plant, labels are recorded during the operation of the production lines, along with information regarding time and date, line number, type of product, production order and other relevant data for traceability. "At our client," he states, "the readers were already installed in our filling machines, and every time a box of packaging is placed on a machine, its label is automatically read and its information is recorded in the database."

The main benefit already achieved with RFID, Rios reports, has been the possibility of digitizing a part of the traceability process, thereby ensuring that all steps are connected, in addition to gaining greater agility and security, since it is no longer necessary to use paper in the process. "The middleware is responsible for allocating all the data that make up the system, integrating with the ERP system, aggregating in the boxing system, managing the analysis, and releasing tanks for production and products for dispatch."

"Through middleware," Andrade says, "we update data on the printers that make up the system and read the cameras that identify the packaging on the production line. The system was totally conceived and developed by the Digital Platform team from SIG, with the initial support of iTag, which provided the software used." Rios adds, "As it was our first project with RFID tags and we did not have a team specialized in the system, the supplier [iTag] helped us to specify the best model to meet our need."

Sérgio Gambim, iTag's CEO, describes satisfaction in carrying out an implantation at a company like SIG, and in bringing to practice the positive results of automatic identification and tracking via RFID. "We are proud to develop projects like those of SIG and other customers that get benefits from RFID tags," he says, "because they depend on processes where screening is of paramount importance. We were invited to design the project for the identification and screening of SIG's master packaging, where the smaller items go." According to Gambim, his company now awaits the project's next evolution. "For us at iTag, every product deserves an RFID tag," he states.

RFID readers were installed on the production line to record information about the labels during the handling of the packaging boxes, and also on filling machines installed inside the factories of the company's customers, where the information recorded is read.  Siemens readers were deployed at the SIG plant and at customer sites as well. The tags, in turn, are supplied and manufactured by iTag and come with an Impinj chip. "Our system integrates with the customer's ERP," Rios says, "but does not use RFID information in this operation." The solution works with multiple databases, with a local database synchronizing important information to a cloud database.

"We believe that the use of this RFID technology has brought several benefits to our systems," Andrade says, "since we work uniting tools from Industry 4.0 with the benefits of performance gains and digitization for our customers. The biggest challenge within this context is the cost of non-reusable labels, which has a significant impact on the business—but with technological advances and the increased use of this technology, we believe that this cost will be diluted and will become even more accessible over time."

The main challenges in implementing the system, according to SIG, were related to the labels' size and application, and to the development of the reading and identification system, as this is a novelty in the company's processes. "At SIG, the company's digital solutions area has full autonomy to make decisions and, in this case, to define the best means to achieve complete traceability for our client," Rios says. "It is a very large and complex project that seeks information from different sources, and RFID technology was essential for its success."

Regarding the future of RFID at the company, Rios adds, there are other initiatives currently under study. These include identifying all trucks that transport products so that the entire process can be automated, thus enabling the industry to automatically recognize which trucks enter or leave the factory, as well as when this occurs.