By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2007-09-17 Print this article Print

Industrial company is now pursuing 10 actual initiatives—450 possibilities were originally on list.

's 10 RFID Projects">

Dow's 10 RFID Projects

  • Cylinder tracking-using RFID tags and readers to monitor the transport of gas cylinders.
  • Tanker truck tracking.
  • Rail car tracking and product monitoring.
  • Intermodel container and content tracking (containers that can be easily transported from trucks to railways to ships).
  • Warehouse and inventory management. (This lets Dow locate and re-direct containers in transit. For example, if a customer cancels an order and another customer orders the same product, it can be easily located and shipped to the new customer.)
  • Product consignment inventory management (leveraging information collected from railcar tracking).
  • Pipeline worker monitoring. (Workers have an RFID device on their belts. If the device goes horizontal, indicating a fall or injury, it triggers and alarm.)
  • Tracking inventory in the company's Agro Sciences unit
  • Hazardous material tracking
  • Maintenance parts tracking

In some respects, RFID provides Dow with an ideal solution to some of its more vexing challenges. Federal regulations require Dow to closely track and monitor shipments, particularly those involving hazardous materials. More advanced RFID tags, which contain sensors to monitor such things as temperature, pressure, and vibrations (indicating that a gas cylinder or chemical drum may have been ruptured), provides Dow with ways to automate and improve its monitoring capabilities.

Dow worked with Savi Technology of Mountain View, Calif., for example, to implement its SmartChain offering to improve hazardous goods tracking. Savi, which offers SmartChain on an application service provider (ASP) basis, uses active RFID tags to monitor rail cars. As the rail car passes various readers installed along tracks, SmartChain matches information transmitted by the RFID tag against expected routes and destinations and can also monitor conditions on the rail car such as temperature and pressure.

The system can identify whether a rail car has been opened and issues alerts when appropriate. If it identifies, for example, that a hazardous chemical rail car has been opened on a secure Dow site, no alerts would be issued. But if the car is opened at a non-protected, or non-scheduled site, an alert would be issued.

"The value that technology provides us is really critical," said Asiala. In fact, where RFID systems have been deployed, Dow has achieved a 50 % improvement in its ability to identify and resolve in-transit problems. Other notable benefits include a 90% improvement in the company's ability to offer delivery time windows, a 20% reduction in excess stock inventory, and the elimination of a historical 10 to 15% human error rate associated with the manual work processes to capture and enter data.

Insights from the RFID projects undertaken to date have been gained on many levels.

For one, Dow has used the projects to help it establish a catalog of Most Effective Technologies or METs which can be leveraged by the business units. As RFID Global leader Casto said, RFID technologies, whether tags, readers or software, are evaluated under three levels of MET.

At Level 3 are technologies that are good for a particular geography or location, such as using an application to track tools used at a single Dow plant. At Level 2 are technologies that are good for one business, but that can be utilized at multiple locations. An example is an application for labeling Dow Styrofoam insulation boards, which would be unique to Dow Building Solutions.

And a Level 1 RFID technology is a technology that has wide applicability for many business units at most locations. Dow's container tracking application, which tracks all container types and is implemented globally, is an example of a Level I MET.

Another key lesson learned, said Asiala, is that RFID isn't necessarily the right or most cost-effective answer to a problem. Sometimes a simple bar code will continue to be the best approach. In other instances, Dow has discovered the best approach involves combining RFID with multiple technologies, such as bar codes and GPS systems.

"We're willing to be innovative when the business case is there," said Asiala, "but there are going to be times when the advantage of using a passive (RFID) tag over a barcode is insignificant."

Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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