SSA RFID Offering Shows Benefits in Wal-Mart Test
by Alex Woodie
Wal-Mart's top 100 suppliers won't need to go live with their radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging operations until January 1, but that isn't stopping one third-party logistics company from trying it out early. The RFID Deployment Center in Dallas is helping customers comply with Wal-Mart's mandate, using RFID hardware and software from multiple vendors, including SSA Global, whose RFID middleware enables the 3PL provider to automatically generate Advanced Ship Notices from its SSA warehouse management system.
The RFID Deployment Center was created in January, when Wal-Mart announced that the Dallas area would be the test bed for RFID technology. The RFID Deployment Center is a joint venture among RFID reader manufacturer Silicon Integrated Systems, Distribution Center Logistics (DC Logistics), and Transport Industries. DC Logistics, a third-party logistics provider, was chosen to operate the 150,000 square foot warehouse, which would be outfitted with the latest in RFID technologies and enable its customers--manufacturers and distributors that sell to a variety of retailers, including Wal-Mart--to support the retail giant's RFID mandate as a value add.
The RFID Deployment Center is powered by EXE 4000 warehouse management system, which SSA acquired in 2003. SIS provided the stationary RFID tag readers, Symbol Technologies supplied the hand-held readers, and Zebra Technologies provided the RFID encoders (or printers). All of the forklifts and truck bays are equipped with RFID readers, and there is an area of the warehouse used solely to print out and apply the RFID tags on Wal-Mart-bound cases and pallets.
Other distribution centers in the Dallas area have deployed RFID tagging operations, but no others are getting as much out of RFID technology as the RFID Deployment Center, as best as Doug Chaney, DC Logistics president, can tell. "What we have here is very advanced," Chaney says. "A few others have created the tagging operations. But it's not deployed throughout the organization," he says.
The key to getting the most out of the RFID technology is hooking up the WMS to the RFID readers, so the electronic product code (EPC) data can be uploaded into the WMS database and acted upon by the application. "As the product comes out of the tagging area, we are reading the EPC codes and populating the WMS system," Chaney says. "We'll create the Advance Shipping Notice. That's where the big benefit is going to be."
The connection from the RFID readers to the warehouse's EXE 4000 WMS was handled by SSA middleware. DC Logistics runs EXE 4000 on a Sun Microsystems' Sparc server, running Solaris, but the same SSA middleware technology is supported on OS/400 for SSA's many OS/400 customers.
The Chicago ERP software vendor has taken a five-pronged approach to supporting RFID and EPC technology with its products. First, it obtained what's called a Savant controller, through an OEM agreement with Genesta, then it chose to write its own RFID dialog controller. SSA licenses RFID generation software from CYBRA and will be making changes to select WMS and ERP products to make them work with the evolving RFID and EPC standards.
All of SSA's RFID middleware is to be written in Java, so it can support OS/400, Unix, and Windows platforms equally well. SSA says it will enhance its WMS products with RFID capabilities first, with select ERP products getting the capabilities later. SSA's WMS is a new product that is the result of the combination of several acquired WMS products, including the OS/400 WarehouseBOSS and EXE products, an SSA spokesman says.