Magazine Article | October 24, 2007

Manufacturer Uses RFID To Track Assets, Manage Inventory

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Integrated Solutions, November 2007

Crown Equipment, an electric lift truck manufacturer, requires access to its inventory 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It became apparent to Crown that there must be a better way to manage indirect materials than what was currently in place. Brenda Hughes, supervisor and buyer for Crown Equipment, noted, "We really needed to get product to the operators on the machines. We felt as if our replenishment was effective, but unavailability for all three shifts was hurting production." Crown began to look at RFID (radio frequency identification) to help with their indirect material challenges. Crown began to investigate the possibility of expanding their RFID use to manage indirect materials and solve the challenge of providing 24-hour access.

Conceptually, Crown believed with RFID its employees could simply walk in a crib, pick up their supplies, and get back to work. Was this possible? Their research uncovered the CribMaster Accu-Port, which is a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) inventory management system geared specifically for managing indirect materials. CribMaster has partnered with Symbol Technologies to provide the antennae and readers to power the Accu-Port and has designed a plug and play portal specifically for managing indirect materials. The CribMaster system utilizes passive RFID technology and Gen2 passive tags. This system offered Crown many benefits, including access to tools without staffing the crib, reduction of a 24-hour position to an hour-and-a-half restocking job, and the use of light-duty workers for restocking.

Even with all these advantages, the common issue of tagging small, expendable items with RFID remained. It is hard to imagine attaching a tag to a drill bit, but Crown discovered another way: Tag the packaging, not the product. Crown implemented a system where items are placed in bags with the corresponding label and RFID tag. A great advantage here is once a worker takes their item and walks out of the crib, they simply remove it from the bag, place the bag in a 'mailbox' and that packaging can be used again and again. This minimizes the cost of tags and restocking efforts.

With the 'mailbox' system in place, restocking became easier than ever. At Crown, each crib monitors the movement of 200  to 300 items each day. In one crib, for example, every one of these products is an expendable item and must be replaced. This process reduces restocking time and allows Crown employees to focus on other aspects of their indirect supply chain. With RFID, the employee can simply refill the bags and take as many as 30 items back into the crib at a time. Here, all 30 are recorded and assigned to the tag instantly.