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12.02.2009 - Logistics is a complex business: despite all the progress in process optimisation, a certain amount will still “go astray” when goods and products are en route to their final destination.
The packaging industry is no exception. “We are faced with the daily challenge of making our internal processes more efficient,” agrees Dr. Jan Klingele, Managing Partner of the Klingele Group.
“We are aware that the industry as a whole is under constant scrutiny as to the quality of its products,” adds Dr. Klingele. Bearing this in mind, our IT experts, in collaboration with the Aachen-based stonegarden technologies GmbH, have developed a new RFID-assisted system that will make the company’s logistics process more transparent. The st logistics company from Dortmund helped us reconfigure our workflow processes.
RFID – wireless transmission of information
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a wireless communication technology that operates with radio waves. An RFID system consists of a transponder – a microchip with an aerial – and an electronic reader/writer evaluation device (known as a reader). The reader reads the information stored on the microchip, which can be anything from technical production data such as order date and manufacturing date to pallet information for the movement of goods within the factory or warehouse. “Additional applications, such as our SAP system, then process this information,” explains Oliver Roggenkamp, Deputy Head of IT at Klingele. On our system, we use the latest chips with the highest storage capacity: “This allows us to transmit additional important information to the customer, making order processing a whole lot easier.”
Always on the air
In order to provide complete transparency when the product is en route to the customer, the transponder accompanies the goods from the production stage onwards: “While the board is going through the various production stages, the microchips are printed – one for each pallet,” explains Ekkehard Dürr, Plant Manager at the box plant in Werne. The pallets are marked with the transponder, making them clearly identifiable from then on. The forklift trucks used to transport the corrugated board base paper to the warehouse are fitted with aerials, a reader and a touchscreen terminal: “As soon as the forks go under the pallet, it is instantly identified via the aerials and all the relevant information such as order details, warehouse data and possible information on the destination of the goods appears on the operator’s touchscreen,” says Roggenkamp. “When the consignment goes onto the truck, we can register it as having definitely been dispatched – which means clarity for us, as well as for the customer,” adds Dürr.
Driven by the market
As is so often the case, the market was the driving force behind the introduction of the RFID technology: “This system not only enables us to comply with our customers’ requests for notification of dispatch, but also automatically helps them with their own internal procedures,” explains Plant Manager Dürr. “The minute the truck leaves our premises, we can inform the customer about the items that are en route. If he fits aerials to his factory gates, he will be able to see exactly which goods are arriving as they pass through the gates, making for a real improvement in Incoming Goods procedures.”
No missing links in the information chain
The financial outlay for customers wishing to make full use of Klingele’s RFID system is extremely modest, amounting to a little less than 10,000 euros: “All it takes are the aerials to transmit the data and an ordinary computer – and the customer has to create an interface with their own software system,” states Roggenkamp. “Of course, processing is greatly simplified if the customer uses SAP, as we do.” In addition, the microchips are non-returnable; there is no deposit or collection system: “As they are often rewritable and have a much larger capacity than Klingele needs for its own data, the customer can re-use the microchips and record his own data on them,” the IT expert explains.
We are aiming to add to this seamless information system by offering additional services: “We offer our customers a kind of Klingele Starter Pack,” says Roggenkamp. “What we do is look at the customer’s Incoming Goods procedure and then help them implement trouble-free on-site reading of the data on the RFID microchips.”
Pioneer work in the industry
Although the principles of RFID technology may sound easy, they are nevertheless a fair challenge under working conditions, especially in the field of paper and corrugated board. The typical characteristics of corrugated board – moisture and the fluting – reduce the data transmission range and legibility, making the technical implementation of RFID extremely difficult.
”We have found solutions to all the problems, because the advantages of using this technology far outweighed the drawbacks from our point of view,” concludes Dr. Klingele. “Inventory status is transparent, it can be viewed at any time, and there is no longer a time-lag between the transport of goods and the corresponding entries in Outgoing or Incoming Goods lists. What’s more, the technology is not affected by the temperature or the weather.”
RFID-assisted logistics is now trouble-free reality in our Werne plant and other locations are set to follow. In short, this is a true pioneering achievement. As Dr. Klingele puts it: “RFID technology is an attractive proposition in many different branches – but I’ve yet to see it in use anywhere else in the corrugated board industry.”