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RFID comes in reels

Klingele embraces an innovative solution for identifying paper reels automatically

24.03.2011 - Klingele Papierwerke has successfully implemented an innovative radio frequency identification (RFID) solution for its finished goods warehouses, and especially for its raw materials – paper reel scanning and identification. Its collaborator on the solution is stonegarden technologies, an RFID system provider in Aachen, Germany.

The initial scenario and the goal
Klingele, a family-owned and run company, needed to safeguard its internal logistical processes with standard, commercially available technology. The focus: raw materials – the paper reels. Every Klingele box plant processes about 100 reels of paper a day. Up to now, rolls have been identified with barcode technology. However, this technology couldn’t meet Klingele’s demand for a near-zero defect rate and precisely traceable processes. So they sought a new solution. During an initial feasibility study, and while looking for a competent partner, Klingele quickly decided in favour of RFID technology and a collaboration with stonegarden technologies.

The solution and the technology
The use of barcode-based solutions for identifying rolled goods, especially paper reels, poses special challenges. One prerequisite of barcode scanning is placing the identification mark on the external side of the reel. Typically, this involves one or more DIN A3 or A4 labels, or directly printed barcodes. However, this approach has many drawbacks. In the paper plant, the label cannot be placed until the end of production, often not until the reel is packed. This means that the label is not integrated into the internal process. Furthermore, when the label is placed on the outside of the reel, legibility may be lost due to damage, dirt or subsequent stretching of the paper reel. Besides this, a label placed on the outside of the reel can be lost during processing, when the first layer of paper is unrolled. This makes a re-labelling necessary at every step of processing.

Before it has been processed completely, the paper reel goes through a large number of transport and processing steps. Lack of a preferred direction for placing labels on the outside of the roll impedes continuous reel identification (they are legible only from the “correct” side, or, for standing reels, only from the front). Above all, this often makes scanning during manual transport with a clamp truck awkward and impractical. The codes are usually captured manually by the driver with a hand-held scanner. Often no identification is made. Expensive scan gates are installed for scanning these barcodes during automatic reel transport in the production and sheet plants.

This generally allows paper manufacturers to optimize their processes and simplify reel identification. However, processing plants, such as corrugated and flat cardboard producers, printers, etc., are confronted with reels from several suppliers, some of whom may change, and this can pose special challenges. The upshot: Seamless reel tracking through all transport and processing steps is expensive and prone to error, if it is based on barcode technology.

The solution: RFID
RFID is a radio technology for contactless identification of goods. In contrast with barcode technology, no visual contact with the identification mark is needed. This feature is the starting point for RFID technology in reel identification. The idea is to place the identification mark not on the external side of the reel, but in its core. This does away with the limitations of barcodes.

Problems with damage and loss are eliminated. The same goes for the directional requirements when scanning reels. The internally placed identification mark allows automatic scanning throughout the entire process chain: during automatic transport, transfer with a clamp truck, as well mounting and removing the reels from processing machines. The identification mark remains until the reel has been completely unwound. This is especially beneficial in processes with several processing steps: There is no more confusion, and no need for re-labelling. RFID technology’s bulk reading capabilities offer the additional possibility of scanning several rolls at the same time during transport.

Features of the Klingele solution
Klingele sought a universal solution for automatic reel identification in all transport and manufacturing processes. This could be achieved by placing radio frequency identification labels (RFID transponders) into the reel cores and automatically reading these transponders through the paper.

For more than 10 years, paper manufacturers and identification system providers have been developing RFID-based solutions for productive use of RFID technology. The central tasks are penetrating the paper and integrating the technology into existing processes. Previous solutions have failed either because they involve proprietary, demanding, cost-sensitive systems, or because only selected processes were supported.

stonegarden technologies, a specialist in RFID solutions for the paper industry, has devoted itself intensively for more than five years to developing practical solutions for automatic reel identification. Optimized transponder technology has allowed stonegarden to take an integrated approach to the technical problem and to design an RFID system that meets the requirements of Klingele’s processes.
It involves placing a passive UHF transponder on the sleeve, that is in the reel core, and from there establishing automatic reel scanning during all transport and processing steps. This starts with paper production, and continues through reel dispatch, all the way to storage and processing of the reels in the box plant. The special feature of stonegarden’s solution is that passive transponders are placed in the reel core and read not through the front of the reels, but through the paper. This approach allows automatic reading during transport by handling technology, as well as during manual transport with a clamp truck.

Interim goal accomplished
The two-year pilot phase in collaboration with Klingele demonstrated both the technical feasibility and the cost-efficiency of integrated RFID use. Introducing the solution developed by stonegarden technologies into production has made Klingele the industry’s trailblazer in RFID-based paper reel logistics.

“In resolutely choosing our automatic reel identification system, Klingele has opted for seamless reel transport tracking and thereby maximum transparency in paper reel logistics,” says Dr. Klaus Weingarten, CEO of stonegarden technologies GmbH. “There is special potential for optimization in managing storage and leftover reels, as well as in simplifying the process of tracing the reels along the entire supply chain.” Dr. Jan Klingele, Managing Partner of the Klingele Group: “In RFID technology, we now have a clear, error-free process chain for internal logistics. Our vision is to integrate all of our paper suppliers into it.” Dr. Weingarten sums it up: “The solution developed by stonegarden greatly meets the needs of the corrugated cardboard industry. Building on our practical implementation experience, in coming years we will continuously develop our system into a universal solution for paper reel logistics in general.”