Features

The future of track and tracing

RFID

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is growing in demand as businesses look for more detailed real time data accuracy on their inventory. SICK Australia says that RFID tags can improve the tracking of assets, reduce labour costs and provide important information for both producers and consumers.

SICK has invested in competency development in Australia for RFID technology, so that Australian and New Zealand firms can provide end-to-end software solutions. 

Amit Shinde, Technical Sales Engineer from SICK Australia and New Zealand, says Australia is catching up to Europe and the US after lagging behind in adopting this new technology into agriculture businesses.

“The adoption of RFID technology has been fast-tracked by the impacts of COVID, placing more of a reliance on local manufacturing and inventory management,” he says. “We’ve seen the major supermarket chains automating their warehouses – businesses are realising they have to adapt and change quickly with restricted or limited workforces. For example, RFID has been playing a big role in some of the biggest meatworks in this region as part of their automation and digital transformation projects.”

TRACKING EFFICIENCY ON THE FARM

Amit says SICK Australia’s recent project with a software company and major agriculture business shows the power of RFID. 

“We showed the software company our level of expertise in scanning technology,” he says. “They were looking for an out-of-the-box solution different from the traditional way for the operations on a large farm.”

When deciding on how to track and trace inventory, businesses have two main stream technologies to consider: RFID and barcodes.

“Barcodes have been commonplace for decades,” Amit says. “We discussed using the traditional 2D barcode for this project, but RFID can future proof operations because of the array of data advantages.”

Unlike barcode reader, RFID write/read devices do not need to be in the same line of sight with where the RFID tags are placed. This eliminates the need for scanning barcode labels on each box, meaning items can be scanned and catalogued even when they’re hidden behind other goods. 

“Not having to touch the product is a major advantage,” says Amit. “For example, RFID readers can be mounted at a distance from a conveyor or loading dock where boxes of products or an entire pallet with RFID tags move through. All of the tags can be read at once with a high level of accuracy.”

RFID tags are an improvement over bar codes because the tags have read and write capabilities, Amit says. Because RFID tags can hold encrypted and unencrypted data at the same time as well as utilise passwords to access stored data, human error can be largely eliminated from the process. The RFID tags transmit data to a centralised warehouse management system (WMS) and automatically document the arrival and exit of goods from the warehouse. 

“The farmers benefited from being able to trace the growth of products on a particular field, identifying which fields have grown more products which have been weighed, packed and shipped out of the warehouse. RFID provides downstream information on how soon those produces were put on the retailers’ shelf and how quick they were sold to better forecast their production demands.”

Working on a farm, it was important the tags were washdown proof and unaffected by rain, fog and hot weather. Amit says SICK Australia supplied the integrator with all RFID tags, RFID handheld unit with display, dual camera, bluetooth and GPS functionality for field farm monitoring and recording of data.

Amit says Contactless RFID tag technology is adding speed, accuracy, efficiency and security to an ever-expanding range of applications.

“For the packaging shed we supplied SICK RFID UHF Reader and two separate antenna that were installed on the rails for the incoming and outgoing section,” he says. “The challenge for us was that the RFID tags applied on the products were coming at variable speeds and distance. So, we decided to streamline the speed of the rails.”

RFID works most efficiently when it’s paired with the right WMS to analyse the data. Amit says finding the right fit for the specificities of business operations is key to SICK’s success.

“We proposed a customised Smart Dashboard interface using Amazon Web Services,” he says. “We worked together with the weighing scale supplier to program a software that accepts the weight of the product, combines the data from the RFID reader and adds in the time and date to send it to the Cloud Platform.”

The cloud-based farm management digital solution can be tailored to plan, manage, forecast and budget the farm operations from planting to packing. The Smart Dashboard allows the business to visually map, track and forecast its future harvests and record and manage its day-to-day production activities.

RFID
RFID tags transmit data to a centralised warehouse management system.

THE FUTURE OF THE AUSTRALIAN MARKET

Amit says more warehouses and distribution centres are moving away from traditional barcode methods.

“RFID helps to accommodate for the increase in throughput at the manufacturing site and distribution centre,” he adds. “The demand for same-day delivery on products means managing the flow of products is so crucial.”

RFID scanning requires less resources than barcode scanning because it tackles several tasks at once. 

“You can embed a large amount of data with RFID. It can be used for monitoring the date and time stamp as well as location tracking.”

SICK’s tracking technologies, backed by German engineering solutions, are proving helpful for high-risk manufacturers.

“There’s so many challenges being thrown at manufacturers and distribution centres,” Amit says. “We provide practical solutions with an eye on the future.”

For information on SICK, click here. 

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