01 Dec Test center for RFID capabilities opens next week
Sussex, Wis. — A simulated supply line in a new 3,200-square-foot facility will let companies test their use of RFID against actual supply-chain equipment and software.
Catalyst International, of Milwaukee, and Babush Material Handling Systems, of Sussex, built the facility, named the Star Alliance Center, and are conducting an open house on December 7.
“In the marketplace, I don’t think there’s anybody who’s been able to put all the pieces together and have a working model,” said Dale Casper, a sales manager with Babush. “What we’re trying to do is have a real-life simulation.”
RFID, or radio-frequency identification, is gaining ground in the manufacturing shipping industries. Large buyers including Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defense have mandated that their suppliers use RFID by 2005, and even companies not facing such a requirement may look to the technology to improve their tracking of shipments and warehousing.
As they become more popular, RFID tags, which replace barcodes and convey detailed information about products with radio signals, are also being made smaller and cheaper.
How the tags are read, and therefore where they should be attached, differs depending on the product. The new facility will allow companies to make sure their setups work, something they might have done in-house before.
“It gives them a comfort level that cased goods can be read at up to 600 feet per minute by label readers, which is a requirement of major buyers,” said Larry Cinpinski, RFID product director for Catalyst.
The facility has a receiving point for products, which are put in cases and given labels. After the individual cases make their way past label readers, they are put on pallets, which testers also give labels.
The amount of time needed varies, Cinpinski said, depending on how many products a company wants to test. He said it would probably be several days, and that for best results one company at a time would use the facilities.
Several companies have already used the testing service, he said, but the open house next week is considered the center’s formal beginning.
Raj Veeramani, director of the University of Wisconsin E-Business Consortium, said that companies working to comply with Wal-Mart’s mandate have set up internal testing labs. The university makes testing facilities available to companies who want to explore the value of RFID, but not for compliance testing.
“The actual compliance is not all that difficult to do, in terms of what Wal-Mart is asking,” he said. “But making sure everything works, that will take longer.”
Companies that implement RFID only for compliance will not find the practice sustainable, Veeramani said, unless they integrate the technology into their back-end systems and use it to increase their efficiency.
The new center in Sussex is aimed at that purpose, as well.
“It actually demonstrates to customers how the technology can be used beyond compliance,” Cinpinski said. “So it’s not only a test center for products. It’s also a showcase for how the RFID technology can be deployed.”
A group of partner companies would demonstrate their technologies at the center, he said.
Jason Stitt is WTN’s associate editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.