Implementing RFID for Manufacturing Visibility: A Case Study

This article is a guest commentary from Prof Ming K Lim who is Head of Centre of Excellence for Supply Chain Improvement and Professor of Supply Chain and Logistics Operations at Derby Business School. He is a well-known expert in RFID technology and conducting research in this field, leveraging the capability of artificial intelligence, to improve and optimise logistics and supply chain operations to address various business challenges, such as low carbon agenda and complexity due to dynamic changes.

Introduction
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is one of the Automatic Identification and Data Collection (AIDC) technologies used to collect data through radio waves in real-time. The technology uses tags of different size, shapes, frequencies, and operating powers to achieve specific results for different applications. The application of RFID ranges from asset, inventory, stock management, real-time localisation systems, tracking and tracing, and visibility of goods in the retail market, wireless payment, and more recently, the internet of things and customer-focussed services.

At the Centre for Supply Chain Improvement (CSCI) based at the University of Derby, experts are helping the industry to use RFID technology for various issues in their supply chains. Having years of experience and knowledge developed, the staff at CSCI provides awareness through projects implementation, training and certification, or technical consultancy. 

The Project
Amongst a number of small and large projects, one on-going project with a major automotive manufacturer based in the UK stands out. The basic idea is to enable a number of forklift trucks with RFID readers that can scan or read respective tags placed on stillages as they are picked and moved about the manufacturing plant. The data collect tells the forklift driver as well as the management team about the stillage items in real-time and where to place it, being either inbound or outbound. Likewise, maintenance personnel will be equipped with a mobile RFID reader to read and log maintenance work done on a stillage and maintain historical data. The project aims to provide; 

- Real-time visibility of empty stillages by tracking them throughout the manufacturing site and warehouse using RFID metal-compatible tags,

- Up-to-date information of previous and required maintenance of stillages for safety,

- Long-term data collection and availability for operational progress monitoring, and

- Reduction of human error and timely information sharing of stillage usage and availability,

The pilot study and implementation has been completed successfully, expected reliable test results that are underway will eventually enable 30,000 stillages to be tagged. It is envisaged that other international manufacturing plants as well as national and international suppliers and the supply route cross docks will also deploy the technology. The grand aim is for all suppliers and stakeholders to collect and share data for an overall process understanding and improvement in the logistic activities to reduce cost and errors. 

Conclusion
The complete project has been a challenging yet successful path from conception to pilot completion. The client had only come up with a problem statement and having heard of RFID technology, wanted to see if it could provide a solution. With various phases of project scoping, surveying, costing, and analysis, the client was kept informed of what and how the project was to be implemented and aims achieved. Having promised expected results, a detailed and informative solution handover with long-term maintenance and support, the client attributes highly professional value to the CSCI staff, which the centre reflects back by holding it dear.