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9/30/2004
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Campbell Uses 'Slap-And-Ship' Approach To RFID

Food company says the method has thus far achieved a 96% success rate for case reads.

Campbell Soup Co. has adopted the "slap-and-ship" method of tagging its products using radio-frequency identification, although some argue that using this method prevents companies from integrating RFID technology into their business processes. Slap and ship is the process of putting RFID tags on right before products leave a warehouse and are shipped to a retailer, rather than earlier in the business process.

Mark Engle, senior director of IT, said at Wednesday's EPC Global U.S. Conference that Campbell is using slap and ship because it lets the company learn about and experiment with the technology. "We prefer to call it 'tag at ship,' not 'slap and ship,' because it has proven to be a very successful process," Engle said about the method, which has a 96% success rate for case reads at Campbell.

Campbell started field testing RFID at a Paris, Texas, plant in December. Despite its success with slap and ship, Campbell's liquid and metal products have presented several physics challenges. Metals and water-based liquids interfere with UHF radio frequency; therefore, Campbell had to take extra steps to assess how RFID would work within the company's supply chain.

To address the problem, Campbell allocated 212,000 square feet to the We Pack Facility in Texas. Testing there has shown that the exterior of packaging, near the UPC bar code, is the best location for RFID tags. In addition, building optimized loads and working with air gaps in liquids and metals can improve readability. Campbell found that the readability of tags was highly related to reader and antenna configuration, so it's also important to provide optimal tag orientation to antennas, Engle said.

The company also set up a conveyor line and a manual line in the repacking area to replicate an actual manufacturing setting. Products such as pasta sauce and chicken broth were tested at the facility.

It's unclear what Campbell's ROI will be after RFID implementation, Engle says. He also worries about application and tag cost, which is still 19 to 60 cents per tag. "Equipment purchases could become obsolete and we are still lacking automation and high-speed encoding," Engle said about other RFID challenges.

Campbell is planning to tag a pallet or a case in November and ship it to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as a test.

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