When Walmart introduced its RFID mandate to consumer packaged goods companies in 2003, suppliers balked because of an unproven supply chain roadmap and actual-time-of-arrival management challenges. Fast forward to 2019, and a study in December 2018 by LNS Research shows “that two-thirds of companies have implemented, are currently implementing or plan to implement an ‘Industrial Transformation’ program.”
Sachsenmilch AG, a large dairy producer in Germany, falls into this category as the company has been executing multiple continuous improvement projects centered around improved data management in the last five years. The company recently introduced an RFID plastic pallet solution to its Leppersdorf plant to track highly lucrative whey powder products at the secondary packaging level.
The dairy producer, on average, produces 1.5 billion kg of milk annually from five production areas at the facility, but also manufactures whey protein concentrate and dairy calcium for a variety of applications.
In the packaging area, the company fills whey powder into 20-, 25-, 750- and 900-kg bags. The company needed more efficient data logging of product at this stage to adhere to new company hygiene guidelines — part of its continuous improvement initiatives. In the past, production employees attached labels with European Article Numbers codes to the pallet feet, which were scanned and associated with the product data. Then, personnel loaded pallets in the central warehouse according to the company’s data records.
“In the area of powder bagging, we were using nine different pallet types,” says Andreas Ulbricht, project engineer for process technology, instrumentation and control engineering at Sachsenmilch AG. “In addition to Euro pallets, there were customer-specific models as well as various one-way and container pallets for specific market segments.”
The inside track
To streamline end-of-line packaging operations, Sachsenmilch implemented RFID-enabled plastic pallets — model CR3 — from Craemer GmbH with two transponders in the ultrahigh frequency range embedded into the pallet feet. Sachsenmilch specified Siemens technology for this RFID solution, including the SIMATIC Ident RF600 UHF reader, S7 programmable logic controller (PLC) and the SIMATIC WinCC supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system.
The company installed a total of five RF600 readers in the powder bagging area, where two each are connected to a SIMATIC Ident communication interface module ASM 456. The ASM 456 are slave modules for the RFID readers and code readers via PROFIBUS DP-V1 to the S7 PLC’s processor. The ASM 456 modules include a connection to a diagnostic repeater that monitors the bus cables and sends detailed information in case of a malfunction.
After the bags are filled and sealed, conveyor belts move finished product to a pallet changer via a transport system. The new solution, plastic pallets, ensure that the RFID tags are always uniform. The reader, with its integrated antenna, reads the RFID tag information and forwards it via the ASM 456 communication module to the SIMATIC controllers that manage the subsequent processes.
Before the handoff of the shipping pallets, the reader acquires the RFID tag data one last time, and then the roller conveyors move the arranged bags from the plastic pallet onto the tilting element of the pallet changer. The shipping pallet is wrapped and moved to a high-bay warehouse; the plastic pallets return to the palletizer.
According to the dairy producer, the pallet line PLC queries the EPC number in the SCADA system and expects a pallet number. Only after it has been input is the empty pallet released for entry back into the palletizing area. The powder bagging area currently operates with a pool of RFID pallets intended just for the internal logistics in a closed-loop process.
With today’s advanced data management solutions, second-tier data challenges are becoming quick solutions as management targets more low-hanging fruit at the right cost.
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