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Conveyors & Sortation Equipment Outfitted with RFID

Conveyors & Sortation Equipment Outfitted with RFID

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Introduction

Conveyor belts are used across all types of industries – from packaging and transportation to manufacturing, mining, food and beverage, and service. Typically, conveyors are used to transport items or goods from one place to another, but they are also used in collaboration with other equipment to fill, package, cut, or sort goods. As the demand and subsequent influx of IoT products providing consumer-level home automation have increased, a proportional increase in interest has been seen in businesses both big and small for industrial automation. These companies are looking for proven solutions that utilize the latest technologies for reducing manual labor, the margin of human error, lost and stolen inventory, and for providing and maintaining an increasingly high level of visibility.

Many popular deployments include an RFID system, Visual ID system, or a combination of both in order to solve an existing issue. The following is a list of applications that are currently being used on or in correlation with conveyor belts or sortation equipment.

• Order Verification 

• Shipment Verification 

• Work-in-Process 

• Item Identification 

• Preventative Maintenance

Adding RFID to a warehouse, building, and/or an entire supply chain provides efficiency, reduces waste, and can increase inventory accuracy by up to 95% (1). According to Zebra Technologies, one of the leading manufacturers of RFID technology the major players in manufacturing and warehousing know the benefits of automating, and 52% of warehouse executives plan to increase technology investments in the near future (Zebra). The growing need for visibility and efficiency has companies striving for supply chain transparency - which means they need real-time inventory tracking solutions and/or order and shipment verification applications.

“Manufacturers in the global market are focusing on full automation of the material handling and movement in the conveyor systems industry to make the manufacturing process more smooth and continuous…The conveyor systems market demand is because of the need for automating the complete manufacturing process.” 

– Fortune Business

Insights

Below are two examples of real-world applications of RFID technology used on conveyor belts and/or sortation equipment in order to provide efficiency, visibility, and accurate data.

RFID Airline Conveyor System

Delta Airlines was one of the first airlines to incorporate RFID tags on passengers’ luggage in order to increase visibility and decrease the quantity of lost baggage cases throughout the travel process. Now that RFID is slated to become standard in the airline industry due to Resolution 753 (Read More Here), airports are beginning to visualize additional opportunities available with the technology. San Francisco’s International Terminal 1 has started implementing a new terminal-wide independent carrier system for baggage handling, featuring conveyor belts and RFID technology.

Already approved by TSA, this system will be a common-use system for all airlines – meaning that there will be no need to go to individual airline desks to check-in luggage. The common use check-in system allows passengers ‘to print their boarding passes and bag tags at a kiosk, before dropping the bag at a scale, label, dispatch (SLD) unit.’ The terminal will have 40 SLD units that will automate and control the indexing of bags, which eliminates several different touch-points and manual labor. Bags are placed in individual totes aboard a conveyor belt, where each passenger’s bag’s RFID tag information will be linked to the information on an RFID tag embedded within each tote. Once the bag’s RFID tag and the tote’s RFID tag information are linked in the system, each tote containing one piece of luggage continues along the airports’ system of conveyors and carousels. On that route, each bag is scanned for security purposes, taken for additional screening if necessary, and then directed to the appropriate gate via the conveyor.

This new system provides an array of benefits for the airports, airlines, and customers.

• Increased Efficiency – A single common-use RFID-enabled conveyor belt system eliminates the need for each airline to operate separate conveyors and security screening processes. One standard, highly efficient, automated system increases visibility, reduces manual labor, reduces risk of bags stolen or lost, and additionally decreases the amount of operating power necessary. 

• Increased Visibility – Before implementation, all bags traveled from check-in desks to loading carts with little to no visibility. The system will read RFID tagged totes throughout the process, providing visibility to airlines, airports, and, if enabled, baggage owners as well. 

• Reduced Manual Labor – Instead of each bag being weighed, tagged, scanned, and lifted on the conveyor by an airline employee, all bags will be placed at a Scale, Label, Dispatch (SLD) unit. These units scale, label, and then place the bags in RFID tagged totes on the conveyor system which reads each bag’s RFID tag and then associates that information with the tagged tote. 

• Reduced Risk of Lost or Stolen Luggage – Because all bags are routed through one system, including transfer bags, the risk of bags being sent to the wrong plane and/or being delayed is reduced. In addition, the risk of lost and stolen baggage decreases with less human “touch points” and manual transfers.

RFID Manufacturing Conveyor & Robotics System

Honeywell, a large, multinational manufacturing company, was looking for a way to reduce manual processes and labor within a large (91,000 square meter) multi-story warehouse and manufacturing facility. Previously, employees moved raw materials via trolleys from the warehouse, to the manufacturing facility, and between the different manufacturing lines. Honeywell sought to automate those processes while keeping the facility flexible, so that manufacturing lines can be changed when needed depending on product demand. In 2016, Honeywell purchased MiR robots to help solve this problem and eliminate the manual processes they thought to be slowing down production. These robots were set up to scan boxes with materials inside and know each container’s contents thanks to a unique RFID tag on each box.

Because of these RFID-enabled robots and RFID tagged boxes of material, ‘six staff members were freed up for higher-value tasks’. Honeywell chose to only automate half of this process at once – so, while employees were freed up from manually transferring the boxes of material, employees still had to send the robots to specified workstations.

In 2019, Honeywell decided to continue its vision and fully automate the process by adding conveyor system modules to the top of each robot. With the addition of the conveyor module, these open-source MiR robots now could place material boxes on manufacturing lines, transfer products, or remove products from other lines without any manual help. A typical conveyor belt that runs the length of a facility is expensive and normally a completely fixed system. Honeywell wanted the capabilities of a conveyor system, without the permanent infrastructure. This new system, including the top module conveyor belts, the MiR robots, and all the RFID components, has already produced a return on investment within two years and created a new, efficient, and flexible manufacturing facility.

    • Reduced Manual Labor - By freeing up 6 staff members from their previous tasks, employees were able to work on more important activities, creating a more efficient workflow.
    • Save Money - The entire facility is much more efficient now that MiR robots can place, transfer, and remove materials or products off manufacturing lines. This efficiency saves a company money, as the company's employees and robots are now more productive overall.

Conclusion

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For more information on RFID and the supply chain – checkout the links below.

Sources:

(1) https://www.supplychainbrain.com/blogs/1-think-tank/post/28945-en-route-to-smart-warehousing-and-why-iot-matters

(2) https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/industry-reports/conveyor-systems-market-101116

(3)https://www.internationalairportreview.com/article/73992/bew-ics-baggage-handling/

(4) https://www.industrialcontrol.com/mircasestudy-honeywell