.:Metal Distributor Leverages RFID; Streamlines operations and delivers superior customer service :.
Ryerson is a leading metals service centre in North America, with 2005 sales of $5.8 billion. Ryerson distributes and processes metals, primarily stainless steel, carbon steel and aluminum, through a network of more than 110 distribution facilities across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and India.
- Ryerson's products and services include: stainless, aluminum, carbon & alloy, nickel alloy, brass & copper, plastics, fabrication and roofing metals.
- Ryerson offers a complete line of processing capabilities to produce anything from simple shapes to complex sub-assemblies and can provide raw materials to transform to finished parts all from one convenient source.
- Ryerson prides itself on delivering The Big Five® service advantages: available inventory, on-time delivery, competitive prices, quality product and rapid response.
Ryerson manages the distribution of metals from warehouse across Canada and U.S. with more than 1,000 distribution centre's and 100 manufacturing plants. In order to better track inventory in these locations, Ryerson began working with Ship2Save, a leader in providing cost-effective RFID solutions, to research technologies that would help them identify and track inventory positions.
From the start of the engagement, one of the challenges that Ship2Save recognised was that visually, many of the metal products are identical to the natural eye, but physically they are different in terms of hardness and density. Mistakes in shipping the right quality of material to the appropriate customer are not acceptable, and could be quite costly in this type of environment. This became a key consideration as Ship2Save evaluated and recommended a technology for inventory tracking.
Ship2Save recognised that an RFID system, complete with tags and readers would meet the needs of Ryerson and hopefully provide additional benefits. But as they began to test Gen 1 RFID tags, several challenges appeared.
RF technology is difficult to manage when it comes into contact with metal and steel or anything with a reflective property. In order for RFID
tags to work properly in this environment, adjustments had to be made to the RFID tags to decrease interference and increase readability. With Gen 1 technology, Ryerson experienced 10-15 percent bad reads of the tags, and a read range of only 3-4 feet which was insufficient.
A remote warehouse in montreal, which was being used to handle excess inventory, is where Ryerson decided to start piloting a Gen2 RFID system to help them improve operations.
In order to minimise the RF interference with metals, Ship2Save began working with Metalcraft to test Gen2 RFID tags. After testing tags from several suppliers, Metalcraft recommended Gen2 inlays from Texas Instruments (TI) for their ability to support consistant read performance.
TI's Gen2 inlays feature innovative antenna designs for optimal performance across a wide range of SKU's. The Gen2 inlay portfolio includes variations in antenna designs and a standard form factor for delivery on reels to enable ease of scalability in high volume conversion and end-user application environments, like with Ryerson. TI Gen2 products are based on the EPCglobal™ Generation 2 specification with 96 bits of user programmable EPC™ memory field with Read, Write and Lock capabilities.
Metalcraft had been working with the TI Gen2 inlays to reduce the RF interference with metals and found that using foam seperation of a specific thickness, combined with the distance of the tag from the metal itself actually amplifies the signal.
With the system improvements provided by MetalCraft and TI, Ryerson is now able to realise tag reads above 200 per second and has reduced "bad reads" to 1% while increasing the read range up to 15 feet.
This new system speeds up the picking process and with RFID readers at the dock doors, Ryerson can see if something is in stock and when an order left the warehouse. They are also able to determine arrival times at the customer and have implemented a web portal to see real-time shipping and receiving for customer visibility.
"We were initally only looking for inventory control in our warehouse, but we gained an unexpected benefit - the ability to identify the right material for the right application in real time, "said Carl St-Hiliare, director of operations at Ryerson. "What started out as a technology that could help us improve operations, has also given us visibility of our stock for security purposes, as well as increased efficiencies and speed of shipping."