Automating Order Fulfillment with a New Generation of RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 @ 08:52 AM

Back to the Future

If you’ve been following our 100 days of RFID campaign from the beginning, you’ve known that one of the reasons we’re doing this is to celebrate 10 years of RFID in conjunction with our upcoming anniversary.  But, today we’re getting in the time machine to celebrate 15 years of RFID.  Come along for the ride as we fire up the flux capacitor!

The year is 1995 and here’s what the RFID technology scene looked like: low frequency, which meant tags couldn’t be read from a great distance; proprietary technology, which meant customers had few options when upgrading; and higher costs, which meant trading off business benefits.

Well before ThingMagic was founded, Würth Oy, a Finland-based supplier of tools, fasteners and other industrial products, pioneered RFID’s use in order fulfillment.  This was a low frequency (LF) system based upon proprietary hardware that automated the picking process along a nearly one mile long conveyer line at its plant in Riihimaki. The point came, however, when Würth no longer could obtain parts for the proprietary hardware powering the system, so it turned to ThingMagic partner Vilant to replace it with one based upon UHF without any downtime to the picking line.

Vilant - Wurth OyThe closed-loop application features 40 stationary ThingMagic Astra readers that interrogate EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags on roughly 1,000 plastic containers. The information collected via RFID is used to direct the conveyor belt system to send the containers to the proper picking stations. The key for Würth and Vilant was to make a slow and planned switchover so as not to incur any downtime, as over 70% of orders are fulfilled using this line, with over 40,000 RFID tracking events per day.

While Vilant successfully met Würth’s goal of moving its order fulfillment system to the next generation of RFID technology, it now can focus on taking advantage of what this generation provides them. In particular, the ease of maintenance and customizability of the system allows Vilant and Würth to innovate faster and easier. In addition, the greater performance of the system allows Würth to collect better data for quantifying how each picking station is used, maximizing the use of each station and eliminating bottlenecks.  Würth also is in position to eliminate paper from its picking process by presenting employees with electronic lists with locations for each item for even greater efficiencies.

Now that you know this company’s story, what RFID change do you think it’ll effect in the next 15 years? Or will it be closer to five years? We’re interested in your comments.

(photo credit: Vilant)

Tags: RFID, Manufacturing Automation, Container Tracking

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