Over the last 4 seasons, the NFL has partnered with Zebra Technologies to integrate RFID into the game, providing unprecedented data points to the benefit players, coaches and fans.
Tagit RFID Software
We’ve talked a lot about RFID . . . the technology, the hardware, the benefits. There is no doubt, RFID automates the collection of data, a lot of data in fact. But what you do with all that data once you’ve collected it, is the real key to success.
Data Management with Tagit RFID Software
Recently, ADI installed an RFID inventorying and shipping system for a customer using Tagit Operator software, a suite of application for encoding, validation, packaging, shipping and receiving RFID tagged products.
Tagit Operator software connects to the customer’s ERP system and pulls data directly from the sales orders scheduled for a user specified date range. The “bridge” or connection to the ERP system is seamless with Tagit Operator software. In this case, E2 is the ERP system being used. It is designed for companies small to large that mainly do manufacturing and provides a seamless environment that controls every aspect of the production work flow to maintain cost effectiveness and production speed.
Encoding with Tagit RFID Software
RFID tags are printed and encoded at the manufacturing line and parts are labeled right from the start. Visibility of all moving parts throughout the manufacturing process is key. Currently, encoding is done from a centralized station which allows the user to bring up an order, and print and encode the labels for that order. Future plans will be to have a encoding station at each manufacturing line to further streamline the process.
Immediately following production, parts are sent to either an assembly area and then to a staging area or directly to a staging area. Using a handheld reader, the parts are inventoried and the location is updated within the software. With numerous orders being produced at any given time, sometimes with hundreds of line items per order, having visibility and traceability of the production floor was key to their success.
Validation, Packaging and Shipping with Tagit RFID Software
Once everything for an order has been assembled, the order goes to shipping and RFID is employed to ensure orders are shipped correctly and complete. RFID portals were installed at each of the 3 dock doors. As orders are loaded, they must pass through the RFID portal. The system reads the tags and verifies it against the order being loaded.
The most interesting part of the software was our connection to the customers back end database which was a bridge to E2. What made this so special was the seamless way the bridge in the Tagit Operator software connected and talked to the customer’s ERP system. No custom programming required!! This means that the software didn’t take long to install or set-up on-sight.
The bridge allows us to configure the database connection in many different ways according to what works best for the customer’s situation. The bridge also allows us to easily refresh order data that is there and will create the entry for us to select that order and print the tags connected.
In phase 2, the customer’s ERP will be updated in real time, allowing them to close out orders in their ERP system, giving them complete visibility of every order in their facility. Eventually, the system will auto-print the packing slip this closing the loop on the order.
In manufacturing and warehousing EPC Gen2 tags have become the standard. These Ultra High Frequency or UHF tags are a good choice for these environments for a number of reasons:
- EPC Gen2 provides a wide variety of read ranges
- EPC Gen2 can be encoded and printed on a standard RFID equipped printer
- EPC Gen2 is relatively inexpensive
Optimizing UHF Tag Performance
A number of factors affect tag performance, especially in these environments. But as long as you know what to look for and plan accordingly, RFID delivers many benefits.
Tag Size and Read Distance
Tag size and read distance are directly related. Generally speaking, the size of the tag affects the size of the antenna which in turn affects read distance. So identifying tag size and desired read distance at the onset of the project is a must.
The reader and number of antennas attached to the reader can enhance signal strength/read distance, but only to a certain extent. Doing the math upfront is an important piece of the puzzle to ensure optimum performance of your RFID system.
Environment is a very important factor to consider in tag selection. Both the general environment in which the tag resides, as well as the item being tagged; both its surface and where applicable what’s inside the item being tagged, are all factors that need to be taken into consideration in tag selection.
Manufacturing and DCs can be tricky environments for RFID use. In manufacturing, electrical noise from machinery, lighting and the like can interfere with RFID signals. In warehouse environments, metal surfaces (shelving, metal items, machinery, etc.) can affect the RFID signal, as can the density of the product on the shelves and the continually shifting configuration of any warehouse. Testing is always the answer to making the right choice and should be as close to what you anticipate real conditions will be (labels, reader, label placement, antenna placement etc.) to get the most accurate results.
What’s Being Tagged
There’s very little that can’t be tagged, but some surfaces are harder to tag then others. Tagging metals can be problematic as metal reflects the signal and can short out the antenna. A layer of insulation between the tag and metal surface is the remedy. There are tags specifically made to be put on metal surfaces. However, the Zebra Silverline product is the only RFID tag for metal surfaces that can be printed on demand.
What’s Inside What’s Being Tagged
Liquids are known for being troublesome for RFID, as they can absorb the RFID signal. However, not all liquids are created equal when it comes to their difficulty factor. Take water and oil for example: they are at opposite ends of the scale . . . water having little to no effect on tag performance and oil being one of the most difficult substances to tag. So what’s the difference? It’s the amount of carbon in oil that affects RFID performance. So if you’re talking salad dressing you’re okay, but motor oil (or any other carbon laden substance) that's another story.
When mapping out your RFID strategy, the tag density or number of tags in a given area, should be part of the conversation. For example: When a large number of small, individually tagged items are put in a larger container, it might be difficult to make sure each tag has been read. In cases like this, we recommend content is known in the supporting data.
Where a tag is placed is also an important factor to consider. When tagging on the outside of an object, uniform placement is typically the best practice. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Take for example cartons that are being palletized. Depending on the carton size and/or the size of the pallet, cartons may not all be stacked in the same direction and could contain inner cartons.
In many manufacturing use cases, the RFID tag is placed on the inside of an object or its packaging. This is especially true in automotive and aerospace manufacturing where suppliers have a requirement to track sub-assemblies and placing the tag on the outside of the part is not an option. The material and density of the object will affect the performance of the tag, so testing is always recommended.
Other factors including tag size, reader strength and tag density will also figure into the equation when determining tag placement.
Test, test, test! It's all about fine tuning the solution for optimum performance.