"Zebra's multi-protocol R110Xi Series printers were an excellent choice," says Stockdale, "because they are field-upgradeable with a free software download. With this capability, we knew our investment would be protected with no additional hardware required."
Phase Two: Gen 2 RFID Tagging
Beaver Street Fisheries managed a fast and smooth transition to Gen 2 RFID tagging. "It was really quite simple," Stockdale notes. "We downloaded Zebra's Gen 2 firmware, bought Gen 2 RFID labels, and were off and running, with no middleware or additional programming required."
Stockdale reports that the new standard has resulted in significant improvements to "good tag" yield rates—referring to the percentage of successfully encoded tags.
"In the early days of pilot testing Gen 1 equipment and labels, yield rates ran about 50 percent," he says. "As experience grew and improved hardware and software hit the market, Gen 1 label yield rates grew to the low 90 percent range. Today, with Gen 2 technology, our yield rates are in the high 90s, and often 100 percent."
In addition to better yield rates, Gen 2 RFID technology offers technical and performance improvements over Gen 1. These include faster and more accurate read rates, verification of encoded labels, more flexible label placement options, increased data capacity and increased data protection and security. The improvements are so significant, in fact, that major retailers and the U.S. Department of Defense are encouraging suppliers to transition to Gen 2.
At Beaver Street, the Gen 2 readers can accurately read an entire RFID tagged pallet of tagged cases on a forklift as they travel swiftly through a portal.
Beaver Street continues to look beyond compliance and has found additional ways to improve internal operations with RFID. According to Stockdale, "When a company is growing as fast as we are, there is not a lot of efficiency to be gained using manual methods. We began asking: How can we leverage RFID to achieve greater return on our investment?"
The obvious answer was automation —which, in this case, meant reengineering shipping lanes to accommodate inline printing and encoding of RFID labels, and applying the labels to cases as they are transported on the conveyor system.
To achieve this level of automation, the company contracted with Wavelength to install high-speed, high-performance Zebra R110PAX4 Print Engines in its inline operations. The original cart-mounted Zebra R110 Printer/Encoders are also still in use performing various other labeling applications within the plant.
On To The Next Phase
Beaver Street Fisheries is now in Phase Three of its RFID journey, exploring new ways to leverage the technology. For example, Stockdale and his team are looking at the potential for integration of RFID data with the company's existing warehouse and transportation management systems for improved product tracking and tracing throughout the supply chain.
Beaver Street has also begun looking at improving operations at remote supply sources. The company ran a test with its Nassau subsidiary to tag product shipped from the Bahamas to the Jacksonville facility. The plan is to use ZebraNet remote printer monitoring and control capabilities from Zebra Technologies to automatically generate smart labels at that site.
If this test is successful, this same method could be used with partners at other overseas packaging facilities so product could be labeled onsite, allowing Beaver Street to track all products received, inventoried, converted and shipped at the corporate facility via RFID.