“Team” Spells Success In Traceability

If you’ve ever considered a traceability project, like asset tracking for instance, you’ve probably also done some homework into the different technological ways to implement it, from barcoding to using RFID (radio frequency identification). And possibly, while doing that research, you may have seen some presentations or read some articles or whitepapers that have talked about the “team” of stakeholders required to implement these projects, especially if involving the scale required for a facility, or even multiple facilities. Well if you’re a manager reading this and involved with such an endeavor, I’m writing to tell you, take this stakeholder team thing seriously.

In many respects, there are rational fears in getting a stakeholder team together in the early stages of these projects, like the conceptualization stage for example. These fears include: Blowing the project out of proportion; Creating mission creep; Even derailing the project with the others self-interests. Again, all can be valid and even come true to a certain extent, but the reality is that most, if not all of the time, these same stakeholders will also identify the potential opportunities and pitfalls that will either help build the REAL ROI case, and/or help prevent the unseen wall that will prevent success.

These stakeholders can range from operational management (warehouse to manufacturing, depending on the target), IT, financial, quality, and engineering, just to get the ball rolling. You must always be careful of allowing the project to slip into “decision by committee”, so hold the reins and have the project lead firm in hand. But by bringing their input, you stand to satisfy not only your goal, but likely the shared goals they also have, validating and strengthening the real ROI that will likely exist if traceability is the requirement. You will also likely find that along the way you will bring improvements and efficiencies that will benefit the broader organization as a whole.

Once you’ve established the goal and the real ROI, reinforced by the stakeholder’s inputs, that is the time to bring in the technology pieces to see what best will solve that goal. This is many times were the first mistake can be made. The technology suppliers are brought in too soon and the project becomes technology weighted and a direction assumed before a true understanding of the benefits and goals of the organization are understood. Considering a project manager before bringing in the technology piece is also a great way to be ready when this time comes. When you’re ready for this stage, this will typically involve bringing in the vendors, integrators and so forth. And guess what, I’m certain you’ll find this part so much easier and faster to deal with, and with greater clarity. If you have that clear picture from your team when you bring in your solution providers, you will find the choices and their costs more realistic, and have a better picture of the feasibility of what your organization can implement and support.

Not to kill the thought with a sports analogy, but a team united and pulling for the same goal in the same direction will always win the game, versus each player looking out for just their own goals. So get your team together and enjoy the sweet taste of ROI success all around.

For more information on Traceability visit www.balluff.us/traceability.

RFID ROI – Don’t forget the payback!

traceability_1Just recently, while visiting a customer wanting to implement an RFID asset tracking solution, it occurred to me that ROI (return-on-investment) should always be the ultimate goal for most uses of RFID. What brought this to mind? It was because we were discussing technology before understanding what the ultimate ROI goal was. I’m sure you could say this was failure from a sales perspective, but I’m sure at some point you have also found yourself caught up in the technology seeming so promising and exciting in terms of its benefits, that you lost track of why you were there in the first place. Also, many times, the technology stage is where equipment suppliers and/or integrators are brought in.

As with most projects of this nature, they get started because someone says something like “why don’t we do XXX, it will save us money, time, trouble, loss or get us in compliance” or all of the above and likely more. But this same thought can get lost going through execution. RFID projects are no exception. Many successful RFID implementations show it can bring large benefits in short and long-term ROI not just in asset tracking, but manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain and so on. But the implementor must always keep track of the ROI goal and be willing to share this with their internal stakeholders, supplier and integration partners to be sure everything stays on track and technology does not take over for technologies sake.

Unfortunately the ROI is not always calculated the same for applications. Typically ROI can simply be measured in time period until the investment is paid back or the money saved over a given period of time. The most simplistic way of calculating payback or ROI is: Cost of Project (calculated at the beginning) / Annual Cash Revenues (expected savings) = Payback Period. Unfortunately the rub comes in when calculating the detail in the two factors. This can be because the cost of the project is not totally encompassing and/or revenue does not take into consideration factors like interest costs or variations in production, for example. As this will ultimately become the measure of successful projects, really understanding ROI is critical.

Factors in Annual Cash Revenues are factors the implementer needs to understand and grasp as the reasons for undertaking a project. These factors will typically involve several aspects of their business, including savings from greater efficiency, lower cost in storage or inventory, less scrap, higher quality standards (less failure returns), compliance benefits, etc. In fact, this part is difficult to encompass here in this forum. But Cost of Project has some factors I can point out. In the example I raised in the beginning, the customer needed to not only address the read/write equipment and tags (including handheld’s), but also the cost of installing all the possible variations in tag types used during manufacture, common database/software needed, bringing distributors and field service on board, integration providers costs (internal also), training needs, software licensing, start-up and support cost, and so on. So in a manufacturing line, it starts with the new equipment, but must include the PLC/database programming, pallet modifications, station installation, spare parts, start-up and training for example. In warehousing, it might include new equipment, loss of facility equipment like forklifts or warehouse area, facility modification like electrical for example, ERP and WMS implementation or integration, commissioning and training.

One thing to consider toward understanding these factors before implementing a total enterprise solution, whether in warehousing, supply chain or manufacturing is to consider a pilot or test/trail program to determine as many factors as possible and test the results before committing to the full investment of the complete project.

So in your next project, remember to include your stakeholders and partners in your end goals, try to encompass all the factors and don’t forget the payback!

To learn more about RFID visit us at www.balluff.us/rfid.

UHF RFID, One Size Fits All! – Really?

With the proliferation of UHF (ultra-high frequency) based RFID in the commercial and consumer markets, UHF has been seen as the mainstay now for many low-cost, long-range RFID applications. And in recent years with the desire for longer range application flexibility in the industrial sector, naturally users want to gravitate toward technologies and products with a proven track record. But can you really take the same products developed and used for the commercial and consumer logistics markets and apply them reliably to industrial applications like asset tracking, EKanban, general manufacturing or logistics?
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A Bolt For RFID

In many cases, RFID tags are only as good as the package that carries them. In recent years with the explosion in the use and acceptance of RFID, many different types of tag packaging have become available. In these cases, these new packages have been based around low-cost labels. But when it comes to the industrial use of RFID, strength and reusability are an absolute must and there is a package for that too.

Databolt examples.

This package is called the Databolt™. The Databolt is most likely what you might picture when you hear that name in reference to RFID. It is literally an industrial grade bolt with an RFID tag embedded inside. Usually the tag is located in the head of the bolt. The bolt body is usually made of a type of tooling steel which has been treated or hardened for maximum longevity. In several automotive applications today, the Databolt is screwed into a part, typically metal, programmed with data as needed and then erased and removed only to be taken back to the beginning of the process and used again. But there are new applications where a Databolt can be screwed into a part like an oil or gas valve, cylinder or plate as a bolt for example, and then used as a track and trace method for things like field servicing once the device is installed or in use.

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Survey Says: “UHF RFID works”

To give you an idea of where I’m going to take this, let me ask a few simple questions. Would you buy a mattress without laying down on it to see if it’s comfortable? What about a motor cycle or car? Would you buy one without a test drive? In that same vain, would you want your company to invest in UHF (ultra-high frequency) RFID (radio frequency identification) equipment for a RFID project without anything more than specs if you didn’t have to? I would assume the answers are: “of course not”.
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RFID Embraces The Cloud

One of the biggest advantages of using Radio Frequency Identification in industry and logistics today is the visibility it can provide into the process. With the use of Cloud Computing, that visibility can be achieved with greater flexibility and lower cost.

Cloud Computing provides a means of leveraging shared IT infrastructure and standardized software modules to collect and present RFID data without having to develop, maintain and most importantly, finance a redundant and load balanced infrastructure. Cloud applications also provide visibility and access anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

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Get it in Writing?

I recently attended the RFID Journal Live 2011 trade show and conference in Orlando, FL. I really like this event because it brings together a diverse group of vendors, academics and customers in a setting that promotes open, honest discussions. These discussions are about not only technology, but also the state of the markets RFID serves, including aerospace, medical/heath care, defense, supply chain/retail and manufacturing, the process of RFID, like developing your ROI and even the “how to” parts of it all.

I would highly recommend attending this event to anyone seriously looking to implement RFID, especially at an organizational level. You will gain insight into the advantages of the RFID value proposition and the visibility capability all in one place, at one time. (For future events and to take advantage of RFID Journals offering, go to www.rfidjournal.com)

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Industrial Identification – Barcodes

Written by: Andrew Bollinger

In the realm of manufacturing and industrial automation, the need to easily track products and collect information about their whereabouts has been a problem faced by many businesses. The complexities surrounding the details of successfully identifying and recording products’ information have traditionally been solved by implementing codes on the product’s label or package.  The most widely use code today is the one-dimensional barcode. While advances in one-dimensional code reading have continued to improve, new hardware, code readers, and symbology have made an emergence and are proving to be a more reliable means to track information.

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