When Wal-Mart announced its phased RFID implementation initiative, requiring the top 100 suppliers to apply RFID labels to shipments starting in January 2005, Beaver Street Fisheries stepped into high gear.
Although Beaver Street, a fish and seafood distributor in Jacksonville, FL, is not one of Wal-Mart's top suppliers and had until 2006 to comply, the company challenged itself to exceed expectations and be part of the first wave.
The effort netted Beaver Street an effective standalone, RFID-compliant tagging system that was in place more than a year ahead of its actual deadline and positioned the company to gain the early adopter advantages it sought. Its RFID program proved to be so successful, in fact, that Beaver Street was named a Wal-Mart Supplier of the Year in 2005.
In the two years since, Beaver Street has continued to ramp up its deployment of RFID to better manage its shipping and logistics processes. The results have been overwhelmingly positive from both an operational and a financial point of view. The company's value-based, phased implementation is a great example of RFID evolution in action.
Phase One: Compliance Labeling
Beaver Street imports from more than 50 countries and provides frozen fish, meats and prepared foods to Wal-Mart and a host of other retailers, restaurants and institutions. When Wal-Mart presented its phased RFID supplier tagging requirements to vendors, Beaver Street learned only three of its product lines would be affected, and thus would not have to label its products with Electronic Product Code (EPC)-compliant RFID tags until Jan. 2006.
"We made a decision to be proactive with RFID technology," says Beaver Street Fisheries' CIO Howard Stockdale. "Right from the start, we were thinking ahead to how we could harness the power of RFID to grow more efficient and productive. But first, we had to learn about RFID to assess its full range of capabilities."
Having no previous experience with the technology, Beaver Street turned to Zebra Technologies. Zebra assisted the company in overcoming the early challenges—finding the right RFID tags for its products; selecting the RFID printer/encoders; and testing to find the best methods for encoding and applying them properly to cases and pallets about to be shipped.
Working with Zebra and other RFID specialists, the Beaver Street team set up an RFID test lab in its warehouses and conducted three pilot projects. Since then Beaver Street Fisheries has started using Encode, an RFID visibility solutions platform offered by Wavelength Integrations Solutions Inc. BSF placed Encode Inline, Encode Mobile and Encode Desktop at the edge of its enterprise and in its inline manufacturing lines and integrated with Beaver Street's WMS system. Wavelength's Encode system can integrate with any third party WMS/ERP system.
As a result, Beaver Street first succeeded in developing a cart-mounted smart labeling solution to label the subset of its cases and pallets required for compliance. A Zebra R110Xi printer on the cart encodes RFID inlays embedded within the label material and prints a 4-by-6-inch label in a single pass. The printer validates that tags are readable before they are encoded. If the tag is unreadable, "VOID" is automatically printed on the label, and a new label is encoded and produced.
In this phase, tagged cases were passed through a portal reader to ensure the RFID tags were still readable after being applied to cases. The density and moisture content of each package of frozen fish is not identical, which can make reading performance inconsistent and occasionally resulted in unreadable cases. Wavelength Integration Solutions Encode suite of products produces all labels for BSF and uploads the serialized items, cases and pallets to the BSF WMS.
Additionally the BSF WMS/Order Pro-cessing system passes manufacturing product runs to Encode Inline, and the cases are encoded while traveling down the conveyer. All information is sent to the BSF WMS for inventory receiving and association. Beaver Street uses Rafsec Gen 2 RFID labels converted and provided by Donnick Label Systems Inc.