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Case Study: RFID Speeds Inventory Tracking for Manufacturer

Cox Industries Inc., Orangeburg, S.C., is a family-operated company that produces a variety of brand-name pressure-treated wood products for outdoor use. Now in its sixth decade, Cox Industries employs more than 400 people in five states. Cox durable wood products are distributed to selected building supply dealers, specialty distributors and utility companies throughout the eastern United States and overseas.

RFID-enabling its forklift operations allows Cox industries to better manage inventory, born-on-dates, forklift efficiency and a range of other details.Challenge. Cox Industries has 12 facilities spread across the southern and southeastern United States.  Dimensional lumber arrives at the Cox plants and is treated to meet the needs of customers looking for specialized wood products for residential, commercial-industrial and utility applications.

Cox is currently making innovative strides toward increasing operational efficiency and customer service. Weve upgraded our tractor-trailers with GPS tracking technology and were finalizing a Web portal for our customers to place and track orders,” explained Greg Campbell, director of operations at Cox Industries.

Cox also began to look at how it could improve its inventory and process tracking. We had an in-house software program for some tracking purposes, but the software was out of date,” Campbell said. And while we were tracking raw material and finished goods fairly well, tracking materials through the yard and various work centers involved a lot of manual work and introduced the potential for human error.”

Cox also wanted to improve turn rates. We were not able to track the age of inventory well, and sometimes this resulted in our building too large an inventory. We wanted to make sure we got first-in, first-out rotation.” Campbell stated.

Solution. Cox Industries chose software developer and systems integrator Stark RFID, Greenville, S.C., and its RFID-based solution, HackTrac, a work-in-process (WIP) inventory management system. HackTrac is designed to automatically track WIP inventory. A new ERP system, a purchasing system and several other applications will be implemented in conjunction with HackTrac across all 12 Cox plants.

Motorola RD5000 Mobile RFID Readers help improve the tracking of lumber materials through the yard and work centers.Stark RFID recommended RD5000 Mobile RFID Readers from Motorola Inc. to help improve the tracking of lumber materials through the yard and work centers. The rugged Motorola RD5000 can be used either as a fixed reader or mounted on forklifts, providing the flexibility that Cox needs,” said Lance Burnett, president of Stark RFID.

Burnett explained that Stark has standardized on the Motorola RD5000 when it comes to forklift enabled RFID solutions: In the past, we took traditional fixed readers, mounted them in enclosures and ran cabling to antennas on the front of the forklifts. The RD5000 eliminates that complexity and is more durable and smaller than the alternatives weve seen. The RD5000 also has integrated Bluetooth, which enables us to minimize the use of cables, minimize costs and leverage the new wireless network that is in place across all Cox facilities.”

The Cox implementation started with a pilot at the plant in Blackstone, Va., where there are seven Motorola RD5000 readers in use. When the deployment is completed across all of the Cox facilities, there will be about 75 RD5000 readers in use.

The implementation is going well weve had no problems with time frames and the RD5000s are standing up well to the conditions in our plants,” stated Campbell. When a forklift picks up a package of lumber, the RD5000 reads the RFID tag to see where it goes in the yard. The operator then views the information via Bluetooth technology on a monitor on the forklift. When the package is stacked, the information is transferred wirelessly back to the HackTrac system, enabling our management to track inventory, born-on dates, forklift efficiency and a wide range of other details.”

Results. Initially we were looking strictly for an inventory tracking tool and HackTrac met our needs,” Campbell said. Then as we learned more about RFID, it opened up a lot of new ideas about additional features that we could also benefit from. For example, we visited a site where HackTrac was installed and saw its potential to greatly reduce loading and pick-ticket errors. Since weve installed the system in Blackstone, our shipping accuracy is 99 percent-plus. We can make sure that what goes out in the truck is what the customer ordered.”

When its deployed at all our facilities, the RFID system will provide our management with solid, real-time metrics to compare efficiency across our plants, personnel and equipment and make adjustments for improvements,” Campbell said.

Cox is known for great personal service, and the RFID system makes it even better with quick access to details like ordering history and real-time ordering status,” Campbell noted. Meanwhile, all this will integrate with our customer portal and customers will be able to manage their own accounts as much as they want.”

Customers will have new levels of visibility into status and control over changes. When the operator puts a pack on the trailer, he hits the load button, and that information is in the system. If the customer calls partway though the process and asks to change a SKU, that information can be transmitted wirelessly and sent out to the forklift operator.”

Our team was impressed with the fact that they can isolate individual lumber packages if there is a quality control issue,” Campbell said. They can go back and see where a particular Cox product originated and who worked on it.”

Campbell reported that the insights provided by the new system already have generated ideas about how to scale back inventory volume at Blackstone. Current inventory turns out of the Blackstone plant are probably in the low to mid four turns annualized. We see the potential to go as high as eight or nine turns annualized once the system is fully deployed.”

Accuracy and efficiency are probably more important to us even than saving time, but theres no doubt that eliminating manual inventory counts is a major time savings. With automated inventory and the other efficiencies of the RFID system, I see a 30 to 40 percent increase in productivity,” Campbell noted.

For Cox Industries, some of the anticipated benefits of RFID-enabled inventory tracking from Motorola and Stark RFID include:

  • Enabling operational efficiencies and customer service innovations
  • Increasing loading and pick-ticket accuracy to more than 99 percent
  • Increasing productivity by as much as 40 percent
  • Increasing annual inventory turns by as much as two times
  • Supporting quality control with traceability of finished goods
  • Delivering cost savings by improving inventory and process efficiency

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