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Exel uses RFID-enabled stretch wrapper

A first-of-its-kind Lantech stretch wrapper with integrated RFID reader and wireless communication operates at Exel's facility in Harrisburg, PA.

Lantech's RFID-enabled stretch wrapper features integrated antennas and wireless communication.
Lantech's RFID-enabled stretch wrapper features integrated antennas and wireless communication.

The RFID-enabled Lantech Wrap 'n Read Q-300 semi-automatic stretch wrapper was installed in late 2005 at Exel, a contract logistics or third-party logistics (3PL) provider with U.S. operations headquartered in Westerville, OH. Exel plc was acquired by Deutsche Post World Net of Germany, which operates DHL, in December 2005.

The stretch wrapper is located at Exel's Harrisburg, PA, "Center of excellence" demonstration and test center. The 11ꯠ sq ft Center is located within Exel's 100ꯠ sq ft distribution center. It was installed in November 2005 after being exhibited at Lantech's booth at Pack Expo in Las Vegas in the fall.

“In collaboration with our industry partners, we’re evaluating the most appropriate methods for RFID implementation so that our customers will benefit from products and processes that have been tested and proven successful in real-world applications,” says Tony Hollis, Exel’s manager for RFID strategy and execution. “As a result of this collaboration, we are developing an integrated RFID offering that provides our customers with access to a scalable and cost-effective solution.”

Customer-driven projects

Exel was working on RFID before there were mandates, Hollis says, and it continues to test and evaluate RFID technology. "Some 70 to 75 percent of Exel’s RFID efforts are spent toward helping customers with compliance initiatives," he adds. "A number of our key customers globally that have been early adopters of RFID are now looking at it more intensely as a way to obtain more value from RFID through asset tracking and integrating it into their business."

The RFID-enabled stretch wrapper resulted from an initiative involving Exel's partner companies to seek an integrated RFID solution, not simply using components piecemeal.

The machine uses a Symbol Technologies' XR400RFID reader and wireless bridge mounted inside the mast, and Symbol's AN400 antennas on adjustable brackets attached to the roll carriage. Hollis says the company is also using Symbol RFID tags that are printed on-demand and applied as smart labels to the cases.

On the software side, the system relies on data management support from Red Prairie, according to Hollis.

Spinning load creates 'read bubble'

RFID-enabled stretch wrappers provide a number of advantages, says William Caudill, Lantech's marketing manager for automatic products. "With the additional read points that inter-warehouse RFID applications like the Q-300 provides, real-time, case-level visibility is increased beyond the points of ingress and egress, which RFID portal systems provide." he states. "Because the load rotates past the antennas multiple times during wrapping, the stretch wrapping application provides an ideal opportunity for an extremely reliable and complementary read point in achieving optimal, system-level read rates."

Hollis says readability using an RFID-enabled stretch wrapper is increased 5% to 15% compared to an RFID antenna portal.

"The moving load takes advantages of air space in the load," Hollis explains. "That yields improved RF penetration to create a better 'read bubble' to obtain more reads."

The reader is active only when the machine is wrapping, so it can't generate false reads from a pallet on a passing forklift truck, Claudill says. Transmission of tag data from the wrapper to the warehouse management system is wireless, so the stretch wrapper can be relocated around the facility, as these machines often are in a real DC.

"Another key advantage is that Symbol’s XR400 RFID reader has already been Generation 2 certified and can be upgraded to Gen 2 through a single software update," says Claudill.

Exel has already been evaluating Gen 2 technology. For one thing, the quality of Gen 2 RFID tags is "vastly improved" over Gen 1 with far fewer bad tags, says Hollis.

Retrofit kit in development

Lantech plans a retrofit package to allow existing machines to be upgraded for RFID tag reading with various manufacturers' hardware; Claudill informs RFID Antenna that it should be available this summer.

Lantech is working with companies in the market to create an "open" system that will allow customers to use any RFID or warehouse management system they choose. A similar Lantech RFID-enabled stretch wrapper was installed at Alien Technology's RFID Solutions Center Dayton, in Dayton, OH. The 23ꯠ sq ft facility, which opened in early February, includes a Lantech stretch wrapper equipped with Alien reader and antennas.

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