Schiff Gives RFID a Whirl

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Nov 27, 2013 (3 years and 4 months ago)

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Schiff Gives RFID a Whirl

The vitamin maker has integrated RFID into its pack
-
and
-
ship processes, enabling
the company to read EPC tags as pallets revolve while being stretch
-
wrapped.

By Beth Bacheldor


Feb. 23, 2007

Schiff Nutrition International

is tagging 180 cases per week on several of its
nutritional supplements bound for three RFID
-
enabled
Wal
-
Mart

distribution centers.


The
vitamin and supplement manufacturer is affixing EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tags
on cases of Schiff Move
-
Free, Schiff Glucosamine and four of the company's other joint
-
care nutritional supplements. Once tagged, the cases are stacked onto pallets, which are
also tagged and stretch
-
wrapped, then sent to Wal
-
Mart. Each pallet contains a mix of the
six different stock
-
keeping units (SKUs).




Schiff, based in Salt Lake City, started its RFID project
in May 2006 when it learned it would be one of 200
suppliers mandated by Wal
-
Mart to

apply RFID tags to
shipments by January 2007. The midsize company,
which reported revenues of $178.4 million in fiscal
year 2006, didn't hesitate to begin testing RFID, says
Rod Farrimond, Schiff's manager of business analysis.
"One of the things we've re
cognized as a company is
that the whole industry is looking for a return on
investment with RFID," he says. "Still, we know that it
is important to serve our customers [retailers] and the
consumers with quality products, and Schiff can adapt
to reasonable
initiatives designed to help improve the
entire supply chain and thus improve quality."


Schiff partnered with
IBM

to design, test and implement
its RFID initiative, which
included testing at IBM's
RFID lab in Raleigh, N.C. Schiff is using
Printronix

tags and printers
-
encoders, as well as
interrogators from
Alien

Technology
. For the project's middleware, Schiff turned to
OATSystems
'
OATxpress and IBM's WebSphere RFID Premises Server.


After a two
-
week trial run in late October and early November at its distr
ibution center,
Farrimond says, Schiff sent its first RFID
-
tagged shipment to Wal
-
Mart on Nov. 17.
Since January, the firm has been shipping all orders of the six SKUs to the three Wal
-
Mart DCs. According to Farrimond, Schiff has been able to read the mixe
d pallets 100
percent of the time, while Wal
-
Mart has been getting read rates of 97 percent at its
facilities.



Crucial to Schiff's implementation was the ability to integrate RFID into its pack
-
and
-
ship processes with minimal interruptions. Farrimond not
es that Schiff preferred not to
require employees stacking cases onto products to follow any specific rules, such as
stacking them so all RFID tags face outward. "I can't have them out there trying to
engineer an RF
-
friendly pallet," he says.


Additionall
y, the company wanted to be able to read the tags on the cases as the pallet
was being wrapped with clear plastic, then aggregate all the tags' unique ID numbers so
they could be associated with the unique ID number encoded on the pallet's RFID tag.


"IBM

allowed me access to their lab in Raleigh, and we sat down and worked on it for
three days," Farrimond says. "We weren't sure whether we'd be able to read the tags on a
pallet wrapper, or whether we would have to push the pallets through a portal [to get
tag
reads]." Concerns included whether the motion of the stretch
-
wrapper

which features a
turntable that spins a pallet as the machine winds plastic stretch
-
wrap around it

would
interfere with the signal. Complicating matters, Farrimond notes, is that when

the pallet is
rotating, the orientation of the RF signal to the reader is unpredictable. "We talk about
RFID as being completely orientationless, but it is not."


Numerous tests were conducted, including multiple scenarios to find the right tag, reader
a
nd reader
-
tag combination. IBM and Schiff then built a structure similar to a half
-
portal
with one reader and four antennas, able to read the pallet and case tags while the pallet is
being stretch
-
wrapped. Once the tags have been read, the pallet is shippe
d on to Wal
-
Mart.


For now, Schiff will keep its RFID implementation as is, but Farrimond says the
company expects to expand its use of RFID in the future. Schiff hopes to tightly integrate
the RFID middleware with its back
-
end enterprise resource plannin
g (ERP) software so it
can automatically create advance shipping notices (ASNs) to be sent to customers when
the pallets ship. With ASNs and back
-
end integration, Schiff would be able to quickly
and accurately investigate and respond to credit requests fro
m customers complaining
that their cases or pallets were incompletely packed. "This helps us work with Wal
-
Mart
and other customers to know that the customers got what we sent them."


Deeper integration of RFID data with Schiff's back
-
end systems will als
o enable the
company to create product pedigrees. A pedigree, either paper
-

or electronic
-
based,
documents the movement of products up and down a supply chain, verifying that the
product is authentic and deterring the introduction of counterfeit goods into

the supply
chain.


In addition, Schiff is keeping an eye on initiatives in the pharmaceutical sector, including
item
-
level tagging, though Farrimond acknowledges item
-
level tagging is much further
away in the company's future. Schiff is regulated by rule
s developed by the
U.S. Office of
Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements

(ONPLDS), a division of the
U.S. Food and Drug
Adm
inistration

(FDA).

Currently, the FDA is advocating the use of RFID to create pedigrees for prescription
drugs in an effort to combat drug counterfeiting and improve drug safety. However, it has
not issued similar recommendations for nutritional suppleme
nts.


Schiff, like other companies, will continue to monitor RFID's progression in the supply
chain, and will pay close attention to RFID's return on investment. "RFID is one of these
initiatives where ROI will be seen in top
-
line growth," says Farrimond,

explaining that
although RFID can't be tied directly to increased sales, it can contribute to a more
efficient supply chain

and that
can

be tied to increased sales.


Copyright © 2002
-

2007 RFID Journal, Inc. All Rights Reserved