Case Study: Manufacturing Process & Logistics Management through RFID Technology in Natural Stone Industry
RFID Case Study
The StoneID system synthesizes valuable innovation, which means a major utility at a minor price, and distinctive services in the Antolini’s pre- and post-sales phase, thus generating a definite and measurable ROI.
Antolini Luigi & C. S.p.A. is a leading company in the natural stone industry segment, being one of the most significant producers and distributors of natural stone in the world.
Here are some data effectively illustrating the relevance of this company, founded back in 1956 at Sega di Cavaion, nearVerona:
- Almost 1000 different processed materials, such as marbles, granites, limestones, onyx, travertines and semi-precious stones
- A surface of more than200.000 m2, 300.000 of which are indoor, with more than 200 workers
- Beside its headquarter in theVeronaarea, 6 other offices all over the world, fromSpaintoBrazilandMadagascar, with an impressively spread sole agents network
- 1,5 million square meters slabs produced per year
- 30 containers and trucks per day leaving the headquarter nearVerona
- Exclusive right to quarry marbles and granites all over the world, fromNorwaytoBrazil, fromIrantoSouth Africa, fromChiletoIndia.
- Stone Gallery, Stone Boutique, Antolini Lifestyle, Onyx Pavillon, Shellstone Showroom andStoneMuseum, six tasteful and refined showrooms meant to communicate quality and value of the stones primarily to architects, designers as well as design engineers.
The first requirement Antolini Luigi & C. had to meet is the quantification of the stored material: before implementing the RFID technology, only the foremen’s memory provided the necessary data. It was up to them to remember the about 10.000 blocks of different material coming from all over the world and the exact location of the about 900.000 slabs produced each year.
Again, the basic topic to face was the logistic issue, essential to the good management of any business: data management, with its reliability and immediate availability.
This is the operational context of the StoneID application implemented by F.C.S. Solutions, an IT consulting and service provider company, for an innovative project involving the whole production and logistic process of natural stone in the Antolini Company.
The RFID Application: techniques, products and improving impact on the working process
StoneID is an “all-inclusive solution” based on the RFID technology, of the manufacturing process of natural stone, starting from the block arrival into the factory area up to the single slabs localization in the stockyard, as well as their post-sales management.
Here, in detail, is the operational process of StoneID implemented by F.C.S. Solutions.
The start: the block.
The production process of natural stone starts with the purchase of the block of raw material: the block is labelled on its arrival at the factory (or even on its inspection, where possible) by conferring it an alphanumeric code that, during each phase of the following processes shall provide an easy reference of the original material.
The label is a plasticized A4 sheet with an RFID tag containing the block code; the tag itself is fully configurable which enables the end user to choose both its size and its graphic design.
This kind of label, though simple and cheap, has proved a considerable weather resistance during the two years’ production period in the Antolini Company and has dramatically reduced the blocks inventory time: with the RFID system, blocks inventory has taken only 3-4 man/hours on-site work against the usual 35-40 man/hours of the past. Besides, thanks to its integration with the management information system, the real and storage data reconciliation has passed from approximately 15 days to less than one day.
The blocks data as well as the inventory data acquisition are performed on a voluntary mode, using the RFID handheld industrial computers.
The block sawing.
Once the sawing operation has started, the StoneID process allows tracing the block loading onto the saw machine and the eventual coming out of the slabs.
The sawing management software enables to relate consumption data for the sawing machine blades and abrasives, thus providing provisional data on the slabs coming out that shall further be integrated with the final ones. It also enables printing and initialising of the tags that later on shall be glued to the slabs.
The tags, specifically designed for F.C.S. Solutions by Softwork, are made of high density PE material and have an Impinji chip “Monza3” inside, operating in UHF frequency. They are weather resistant and have proved a total resistance to slabs finishing processes (resin-treating, polishing, etc…).
The software provides loading, unloading and processing reports, but the complete integration with the management information system enables to minimize paper documents printing and exchange, with obvious time saving and considerable reduction in possible errors of copying and compiling. An available optional module allows the integration with the sawing management software, if present, thus enabling the automatic input of the consumption data (electricity, abrasives and lime, etc…)
When the block comes out of the sawing machine, while still on the line, each single slab is labelled using tags previously printed in the sawmill itself and the bi-component glue specifically studied by Loctite as the best to grant the labels’ bonding to the slabs that only rarely have a polished surface during all the manufacturing different phases; the labelling process is so quick that it only takes less than ten minutes to identify the slabs on a whole line containing more that 200 slabs!
The path of the slab.
The labelled slab is univocally identified and its data are stored in a special database: from this moment on, it shall be possible to trace the different manufacturing operations the slab will go through, associating the relevant production costs to the final product.
The start and the end of the different manufacturing phases are detected in a fully automatic way: the LRU2000 controller and the antennas, connected to the ASEM Spa OT1200 industrial computers through a user-friendly interface automatically provide the manufacturing reports management, allowing to know step-by-step the manufacturing state of each single slab.
The sophisticated architecture of the tracing system uses a PLC for the data acquisition and to provide visual information about in- and out-coming of the slabs from the lines, thus granting a total electrical insulation between the management information system and the production line which is essential for any reliable industrial equipment.
The StoneID integration with the management information system strongly simplifies loading and unloading of the different kinds of manufacturing processes through a simple control by an administrative operator: all operations become so automatic that it only takes a supervisor’s control to avoid possible data entry omissions and mistakes.
The extreme flexibility of the StoneID System allows slabs’ automatic scanner systems activation and grants the univocal association between the scanned images and the slab. This is a great advantage for the pre-sales management, since the end customer may know in advance which slab he is going to receive and it is also a considerable benefit for any dispute management in the post-sales phase. Besides, the StoneID system enables to locate the slab position inside the stockyards through a quick and precise tracing of all its movements whatever the size of the stockyards. This way, the waste of time resulting from the search for slabs already in stock is cancelled and unnecessary blocks manufacturing in order to execute orders for materials already available may be avoided. This provides not only an invaluable service for the end customer thanks to rapid order execution but also an extraordinary instrument for the stock control system.
The logistics cycle
The inventory process adopts a similar managing system both for blocks and for slabs: the operator activates the proper function on his handheld industrial computer, while passing near the blocks or the slabs.
The considerable read range that the UHF tags can reach and the rapid data entry enable a drastic and efficient reduction in the inventory time. While the old tags operating with the HF technology or the bar code labels require “contact” reading or a patient alignment between reader and label, the UHF technology allows tracing blocks or slabs simply by passing the reader near to the tag, even though the label is dirty or hard to reach.
Besides, the traced data can be automatically compared with those available from the management information system thus enabling to immediately detect any possible discrepancy or error.
For instance, the semi-annual inventory of the blocks stored in the Antolini Luigi & C. company before the RFID technology system implementation required the work of two persons on-site for more than two days as well as the work of an office operator for almost two weeks, checking the data correctness. Now the whole blocks inventory process only takes less than three hours and the office operator just launches a program that, in a few seconds, points out the differences between the “real” data and those stored in the management information system: a considerable time, money and efforts save!
The great UHF tag read rapidity allows the simplest management of the slabs packages movement by following the company’s various operations up to the final step when the slabs are loaded onto containers or trucks for their final destination.
The exact identification of the stockyards and of the slab support racks (a metal pole structure supporting the slabs) thanks to on-metal tags, grants the flexibility necessary to any kind of store, while, using handheld industrial computers, the operators no longer need to manually record slab locations which grants that no error shall be made in the slabs location tracing.
The business activity.
Knowing the material exact location and manufacturing condition allows the sales personnel to provide the end customers with prompt and precise information, which results in a clear appeal of the Antolini’s brand.
Moreover, the identification of the single slabs thanks to the UHF tags by using handheld industrial computers allows to reserve the material directly “on-site” together with the end customer or to check its condition (“sold” or “reserved”). Back in the office, printing an order confirmation exactly for the material chosen will be a quick and easy operation.
Why RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)?
The RFID technology has been selected because it satisfies the operating procedures required by the Antolini Luigi & C. management, focused on the production time and on the manufacturing process standards, and complies as well with the technical expectations taken into account by F.C.S. Solutions.
The implementation eventually produces a series of benefits strongly enhancing the manufacturing functionality, with a considerable economic return, such as:
- quick material identification and tracing, which means real time inventory and stock, obviously profitable for business: this way stocking of quite expensive material is avoided (some slabs may reach the value of $ 8.000–/10.000) and, on the other hand, other orders can be timely executed.
- The RFID implementation allows improvement of the different kinds of processing by optimizing modes and times of operations for each single process that will be calibrated according to the kind of material; the automatic identification of the kind of material before processing takes place (i.e. marble, granites) permits the automatic mode setting of the machinery to be implemented, thus preventing mistakes in manufacturing. The most innovative and technologically advanced machinery, a winning choice of the Antolini Luigi & C. management’s philosophy, allows maintaining a leading position in natural stone processing and meeting the various requirements of the world market.
In the StoneID backstage: the RFID HW architecture.
The StoneID solution is based on a high technology application, resulting from “ad hoc” analysis and tests that had to face three major problems: exposure to weather condition such as sun or rain, since the materials are mostly stored outdoor even for long periods (about one year); environment of the manufacturing plant characterized by the presence of mud, dust, water as well as metal; adhesion capability of the RFID transponder to the slab, despite its uneven surface and under such environmental conditions, always maintaining its performance level.
Operating with the RFID technology at UHF frequencies, the StoneID system is composed of:
- Feig’s LRU2000 controller with antennas for the automatic identification of the slabs at the start and at the end of the manufacturing phase;
- Industrial PDA integrated with RFID module for the voluntary identification of the natural stone slabs;
- RFID printer;
- UHF EPC tags, 2 Gen glued on the slabs
- Confidex UHF onMetal transponders fixed on the slab support racks in the store.
More information about StoneID -> http://www.stoneid.it/in/home_in.html
Players of StoneID Solution in the RFID chain:
End-user – Antolini Luigi & C. SpA, http://www.antolini.it
System Integration by F.C.S. Solutions, http://www.fcssolutions.it
RFID devices distributed & supported by Softwork, http://www.rf-id.it
RFID devices manufactured by FEIG Electronic, http://www.feig.de (Controllers and Antennas)
Confidex, http://www.confidex.fi (UHF transponders)
About Antolini Luigi & C. SpA
The Antolini Luigi & C. is a leading company in the production of natural stone materials.
Passion for natural stone, a great respect for its beauty, a farsightedness of the Company’s management as well as a constant attention to innovation in sawing technologies have led the company to a considerable growth starting from the small workshop in the early post-war period up to the position of world leader in a market characterized by strong competition and a huge variety of offer.
More than 750 different materials among marbles, granites, limestone, onyx, travertines and semi-precious stones are part of an extremely rich offer available in the Antolini’s portfolio. Fascinating for their elegance and colour range, these products are the result of an intense research meant to propose to their customer an ever different, new and, most of all, unique product.
Founded back in 1956 by Luigi Antolini, the company, with its head office at Sega di Cavaion, near Verona, and a surface of more than 200,000 m2, 30,000 of which are indoor, today has more than 200 workers and 6 operative offices all over the world.
About F.C.S. Solutions S.r.l.
F.C.S. Solutions S.r.l. is an IT consulting and service provider company operating through the design of customized IT solutions. The company’s policy consists in a prior estimation of costs and timeframe necessary for the system implementation, in the attempt to integrate the new project with the pre-existing sw and hw architecture. The company, already Softwork Work-Tag® Partner, focuses its professional activity in the consulting segment (analysis of the customer’s requirements and needs, feasibility and convenience study, design and development of hw and sw applications) as well as in the IT services ( programs for customized applications, sw and hw sales and assistance, local networks design and implementation, Web sites design and development).
About Softwork S.r.l.
Distributor of added value active and passive RFID Technologies (LF, HF and UHF), Softwork has entered into distribution partnership agreements with international leading producers such as FEIG Electronic for passive RFID, Identec Solutions for active RFID, SkyeTek for embedded solutions, PsionTeklogix for mobile computing, Confidex for Hard_Tag & Special-Tag UHF, STMicroelectronics as well as Toshiba TEC for RFID Printers. The implementation of appliances, even customized, resulting from the R&D department’s support, the experience gained on-site by a team of designer, system engineers and technicians as well as a network of certified dealers grant Softwork’s leadership in the RFID technological solutions all over the country.
Softwork also stands out for its intense educational activity, with a calendar rich in training events.