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New RFID Test Center Promises Benefits Beyond Compliance

The center lets businesses test how well RFID tagging will work with supply-chain and ERP software, material-handling equipment, and other warehouse, distribution, and logistics technology.

Catalyst International Inc., a provider of supply-chain-execution software, and Babush Material Handling Systems Corp., an integrator of material-handling equipment and control systems, disclosed Wednesday the opening of a facility designed to help companies facing radio-frequency identification mandates test products for compliance.

The 3,200-square-foot Star Alliance Center in Sussex, Wis., contains an end-to-end product-processing system that lets companies test and asses how RFID interacts with supply-chain and enterprise-resource-planning software, material-handling equipment, and control technology. During the testing, products are moved through packaging, RFID label printing and tagging processes, and on to pallets at run-rates of up to 600 feet per minute. "The center is intended to show customers how they can not only meet the mandate appropriately, but also give them some operational benefits," says Larry Cinpinski, RFID project manager at Catalyst.

The facility, which will begin operations next week, is designed to help companies understand the steps they should take to comply with electronic product code RFID standards set forth by mandates from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the U.S. Department of Defense. But the multiple integration points provided at the facility should help companies move beyond compliance to greater RFID benefits in customer service and operational efficiency, Cinpinski says.

"Many other centers have been designed for testing products at rated speeds. This center does that as well, but it also shows the interaction of material-handling equipment with conveyers, controllers, plant floors, sensors, other automated equipment like palletizers, and case-making equipment, which is integrated with our software and an SAP system, for example," Cinpinski says. "This is going beyond the traditional slap-and-ship environment."

Battery maker Rayovac Corp. will use the center to test RFID tags on cases of batteries. In a typical scenario, individual battery packs of four will come into an automated packaging system on a high-speed conveyer and be packed in a case. The cases will move forward to an RFID label printer and encoder, which automatically applies the labels to the cases. The conveyer will direct each case to the proper shipping lane, where the cases are automatically sorted into pallets. The software will once again generate an RFID label that's automatically applied to the pallet. When the pallet is discharged from the palletizer, the software will send out an alarm, and a forklift truck will be directed to pick up the pallet and take it to the appropriate shipping door, where a truck heading to Wal-Mart, for example, will pick up the pallet. The center will be able to simulate similar scenarios for all its customers, Cinpinski says.

Catalyst will equip the center with software like its CatalystCommand iRFID, and Babush will provide the material-handling equipment. The Glennon Group will provide integrated labeling, marking, and packaging systems, and Columbia Machine will supply the palletizing equipment. Other technology contributors include CTM Integration, Datamax, Fibergrations, SAMSys, Sato America, 3M/Combi, and Zebra Technologies.

The companies will hold an "RFID Day" open house Dec. 7. Demonstrations will be featured at three integration stations: packaging and RFID tagging, the RFID conveyor portal, and the RFID pallet portal. Additionally, companies participating in the pilots and Star Alliance Center partners will make presentations on RFID compliance, "smart" labels, conveyor integration, and palletizing.

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