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porate Technology (see Pictures of the Future, Fall 2004, p. 58).

Tracking Fake Medications. Unlike Otto Group, pharmaceutical firms clearly see their business operations threatened by criminal or- ganizations. The sector estimates that today every tenth package of medicine contains a fake product. Some 70 percent of the cases that come to light occur in developing coun- tries. What’s more, experts estimate that phar- maceuticals valued at $40 billion disappear every year. In view of these figures, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has prescribed that batch tracing be implemented by 2007 — and has suggested the use of RFID technology. With this in mind, Swiss packaging manufac- turer Limmatdruck/Zeiler is currently working with SBS to develop a solution in which transponders would be attached either to the

For the past few months, logistics services provider Kühne + Nagel has been monitoring printer deliveries from Germany to the U.S. with the help of RFID software from Siemens. Alexander Unruh (38), head of the RFID project at Kühne + Nagel in Hamburg, explains the project’s goals and challenges.

  • RFID


outside packaging of medicines or, depending on the value of the products, on the packaging of individual products, ampules or syringes. That would permit the items to be marked in a foolproof manner. If the transponders were linked via the Global Positioning System, the whereabouts of the batch could even be tracked. In combination with temperature sensors, it may even be possible to find out whether sensitive medications have been con- tinuously cooled during transport. Lawmakers are also calling for RFID technology to be used in the food industry to comprehensively docu- ment the origin of the foods we consume.

It’s clear that RFID is a hot topic. Neverthe- less, many companies still do not realize the

advantages this technology could offer them, according to Helmut Röben of the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automa- tion in Magdeburg, Germany. Röben, who has a degree in commercial engineering, is in charge of a special RFID research facility, the LogMotionLab, which is operated in coopera- tion with Siemens. Here, visitors interested in RFID will find a huge selection of state-of- the-art transponders as well as read/write units.

A number of conveyor belts rattle through the middle of the lab’s light-flooded work- shop. Here it’s possible to test how tags should be attached to products so that they can be read clearly, and what kind of transponders and readers are best suited to a particular task. After all, different types of tag work with dif- ferent frequencies and have different ranges.

Pharmaceutical companies see RFID technology as a cure for forgery and theft


I n t e r v i e w s w i t h E x p e r t s

Why did you decide on RFID technology? Unruh: We’ve been interested in RFID for a long time. Several inquiries from cus- tomers who expect to receive added value from this new technology gave us the final push to actively pursue our in- terest in this area. Besides, Kühne +

to the company’s U.S. distribution center in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The U.S. also has different limits for the readers’ radiant intensity. As a result, we have to use tags that can be deployed on both continents. Besides, we code objects ac- cording to the relatively new Interna- tional Electronic Product Code (EPC),

Keeping Tabs on the Goods

Nagel is a member of the Cargo 2000 ini- tiative, an association of more than 30 international companies whose shared goal is to develop systems for the auto- matic, uninterrupted monitoring of air freight across national boundaries.

What has to be kept in mind when using RFID in international transport? Unruh: The main thing to keep in mind is applicable standards. The U.S. and Eu- rope use different frequencies for the ul- tra-high-frequency tags we need for the transport of printer components pro- duced by our customer Océ from Munich

which marks items individually according to a uniform international system.

Are there challenges in addition to these? Unruh: In order to get optimal reader re- sults, we have to begin by training our warehouse employees and packers in the careful handling of the RFID gates and antennas. We’ve also run tests to find out how the tags can best be read — for ex- ample, what happens when a carton slides through the gate diagonally, or when two forklifts carrying marked goods meet within a gate.

The LogMotionLab also has a mobile labora- tory that can be used to quickly construct RFID installations on customers’ premises for on- site testing — without spending a great deal of time and money. “Our most important task is to work together with our customers to develop ideas,” says Röben. “After all, it should be possible to integrate RFID systems smoothly into ongoing operations so that the customer can improve profits, either by saving time or through more efficient data manage- ment.”

Once a customer-specific solution has been developed, specialists from Siemens can im- plement it. “Siemens is one of the world’s lead- ing suppliers of RFID solutions,” says Markus Kehrwald, head of RFID operations at SBS. “We’re the only company that offers products and services for many sectors along the entire RFID value chain. For example, the Siemens subsidiary Dematic provides material flow so- lutions. Siemens Automation and Drives de- velops transponders and read/write units, and

product planning systems. Another coopera- tion partner is SAP, which is based in Walldorf, Germany. In Feldkirchen, RFID systems are de- veloped and linked with software from SAP, for instance, for the automatic registration of product dispatches. In addition, automotive industry solutions — for example, for kanban processes — are shown.

In contrast to centralized production plan- ning, in kanban processes the necessary ma- terials, such as components from suppliers, are ordered as needed. If a Kanban container for a certain component is empty, an order form is attached to it and it is sent back to the supplier. By using RFID tags to replace conven- tional order forms, the process can be auto- mated and made faster and more reliable. Ac- cording to Robert Hülsebusch, head of Intel’s RFID Technology Center, in many cases an em- ployee will collect the order forms and not en- ter the figures into the system until the evening. But if RFID tags were used, the empty containers could simply be placed near the

Ultimately, the effort must be worth- while. How useful has the applica- tion of RFID been in this huge project involving Lufthansa Cargo and Siemens Business Services? Unruh: Printers and printer accessories are valuable commodities, and any dam- age to them is therefore an expensive loss. But now the printers are equipped with RFID tags and monitored continu- ously, automatically and without direct physical contact at every stage of their journey — when they leave the factory, when they are loaded at the Munich air- port, when they arrive in the U.S., and when they are delivered in Mount Laurel. That way, we can find out where the goods are at any time and who is respon- sible if they are lost or damaged. The customer can check the location of the shipment via Internet at any time. Mount Laurel can also plan deliveries better.

Intelligent labels. At the LogMo- tionLab in Magdeburg, the Fraun- hofer Institute and Siemens are testing smart labels — tags equipped with RFID transponders.

Does Kühne + Nagel regard RFID as a technology with future potential? Unruh: Definitely. We’ve recently ex- panded our RFID department, and in the future we’d like to extend the use of this technology to other means of transporta- tion, especially shipping and long-dis- tance haulage.Interview by Tim Schröder.

SBS provides consultation, integrates RFID into IT systems, and implements RFID projects.”

Working with Intel and SAP. Siemens has been working with Intel in yet another labora- tory — the RFID Technology Center in Feld- kirchen near Munich — since March 2004. Among other projects, the specialists at the Center demonstrate the integration of RFID in

reader, which would automatically reorder the components in question. “This illustrates that even advanced processes can be further opti- mized using RFID,” says Hülsebusch. Intel is contributing its special hardware expertise to the project. “We foresee significant market demand for read/write unit components, and of course for server structures to process associated RFID data,” says Hülsebusch. If re- searchers succeed in developing inexpensive components that are coordinated with one an- other and in processing their data flows effi- c i e n t l y , R F I D t e c h n o l o g y c o u l d r e a l l y t a k e o f f i n T i m S c h r ö d e r the near future

Pictures of the Future | Fall 2005


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