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RFID im Blick

UHF is the Solution for the RTI Management at Tata Steel Packaging

Use Cases | By PR RFID im Blick | 02 November 2015
Without RFID there is no control over the container inventory! An effective returnable load carrier management is only possible when having the exact data on all RTIs that are available in the warehouse as well as on their incoming and outgoing movements. Without RFID there is no control over the container inventory! An effective returnable load carrier management is only possible when having the exact data on all RTIs that are available in the warehouse as well as on their incoming and outgoing movements. Photo: Tata Steel Packaging

RFID establishes decisive transparency over a pool of 110,000 special load carriers

Tata Steel Packaging (TSP), subsidiary of one of the largest steel companies worldwide, manufacturers steel products for the packaging industry in the Dutch city IJmuiden. The major share of the products is transported as coils on the circa 110,000 special returnable transport items (RTIs) with a total value of about 17 million. Around 10 percent of these RTIs gets lost per year. Therefore, a solution needed to be implemented. Today, all RTIs are captured automatically at the loading and unloading of the trucks as well as when coil and RTI are “wed” in the packaging system. The result: more transparency, lower expenditures.

Pim de Zeeuw, Packaging Coordinator, Tata Steel Packaging, Netherlands, talking to “RFID im Blick“

Since March 2014, around 50,000 to 60,000 of the incoming and outgoing skids for the steel coil transport have been tagged at the Dutch factory of TSP in IJmuiden. “One of the main reasons to implement an RFID system was the fact the we did not exactly know, how many skids we had on stock and where in the warehouse they were”, explains Pim de Zeeuw, Packaging Coordinator, Tata Steel Packaging. The RTIs circulate between TSP and our global customers and are transported back to us as a free service. Depending on the route, the transport back to the TSP might take three months in Europe and this process might even take between nine and twelve months when shipped back from the USA. During this time, the skids cannot be used. “In the past, we did not have any transparency at the stock level. The movements of RTIs were just based on estimations, however, we did not know about the exact inventory”, says the packaging coordinator. The UHF system finally allowed an overview over all RTIs that enter or leave the factory.

Pim de ZeeuwPim de Zeeuw “In the pre-RFID era, information on inventory data was simply based on estimations. With RFID, we now know the exact stock numbers and can manage the pool more effectively.”

UHF solution finally added decisive clarity

Before implementing the current UHF solution, TSP had already deployed an LF-RFID system. However, as this was inefficient and no more up-to-date, the company decided to install a totally new system in March 2014 . Cooperating with RFID system integrators Mieloo & Alexander, the requirement definitions were tailored exactly in regard of the processes at TSP. An essential point was the positioning and integration of the transponders. “We did not want to attach transponders to the outside of the skids since they could quickly get lost or damaged.” That is why the tags were integrated directly into specifically-designed plastic RTIs. Every skid consists of two halves (which can be pulled apart according to the diameter of the coils) and is equipped with two identical tags featuring the GS1 GRAI-Global Returnable Asset Identifier.

“Wedding” of coil and skid in the packaging process

At the warehouse, where also the skids are cleaned, maintained and undergo a safety check, the new RFID system with the scan and track solution that was implemented by Mieloo & Alexander is installed at the packaging machine. Here, the coils are fullyautomatically packed into the skids. In order to set the destination of the carrier, the coil’s track information that is saved in the packaging system is “wed” with the skid. The use of the reader technology for the identification of outgoing skids is designed as follows: At the packaging line, there are two reading points. The coils are transported with a special forklift. When passing the first reader antenna, the left side with the skid number is read first. A few meters later, the tag on the other side is also read. The software then compares the two strongest signals thus establishing an almost 100-percent reading rate.

Loading onto the truck only in designated areas

Also at the indoor loading and offloading areas, antennas positioned in two rows identify the skids. One is situated one the truck side and the other row is directed away from the truck. For the loading, there is an exclusive zone that had been marked with colour lines painted onto the floor in the past. In order to make sure the truck is always in the correct position, it is only allowed to load in the yellow area. The antennas are installed at the red loading and offloading areas where the forklift is operating. A green safety zone is designated for the truck drivers. In total, the reader infrastructure consists of 25 reading points that have Impinj readers. Mieloo & Alexander provided antennas as well as RFID tags. The company tailored these tags for the specifically-designed steel coil skids.

The benefits: full transparency and anticipatory planning

With the web-based scan and track system, the daily-updated shipment report says, how many skids are sent per day, where and at which customer they are located right now. Using additional reporting tools (such as a “scrappy board”) allows to filter out reject which makes a calculation of the RTI’s lifespan easier. The coil report provides information on when and what kind of skid left the warehouse. Taking a look at the complete weekly report, the number of needed skid types is foreseeable. Thus making anticipated calculation of if there will be enough skids available in the storehouse during the next five or six weeks or if TSP will have to re-order new ones from their supplier possible, describes Pim de Zeeuw the benefits.

All three production sites with RFID and connecting the customer as a vision

The conclusion after more than one year: “We were surprised by the fact that we were using significantly less of the 110,000 skids than we had assumed. Before, our inventory “data” was based on manual counting and estimations founded on the yearly production of 70,000 coils. With RFID, we now know every time the exact inventory numbers and can manage the pool more effectively”, summarises Pim de Zeeuw the central benefit. On top of that, the working process is much easier and the company wants to further exploit the full use of RFID.

TSP is currently implementing the same RFID solution at a factory in Wales that produces material for the US market.“After the production site in Belgium has been equipped with the system, all three sites will be able to work with the solution”, describes Pim de Zeeuw the short-term goal. The long-term vision is to include the customers by adding RFID reading points to their goods receipt. “Knowing how many empty skids are currently located at the customer would allow us to more effectively manage the return transport to our plant”, is Pim de Zeeuw sure.

Last modified on Monday, 02 November 2015 09:43