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Case Studies

Tracking with mobile RFID at Vidrala

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VidralaVidrala has installed an innovative per-unit pallet tracking system at its Albacete (Caudete) production centre, to improve Its internal efficiency, from production to dispatch to the customer.

The system, designed and implemented by JSV Informática y Comunicaciones using Intermec technology, has made it possible not only to eliminate pallet identification errors completely, but also to speed up internal movements and reduce handling costs.

The customer

Vidrala is a Spanish group, created in 1965 in Llodio as Vidrierías Alavesas S.A., and specialising in the production of glass containers for numerous industries, especially food and agriculture. During its 45-year history, the company’s development has been marked by its growth, especially since 2001, when a strong commitment was made to international expansion. The group now has 3 production centres in Spain (Álava, Albacete and Barcelona) and 3 international plants (Italy, Portugal and Belgium), with a total of 13 glass melting furnaces and a capacity in excess of 3.5 billion containers. Constant innovation has been one of the group’s distinguishing features. One of its most ambitious projects has been the implementation of SAP. Within this implementation process, one of the company’s main aims was to improve its warehouse operations and per-unit tracking of pallets. JSV Informática y Comunicaciones, working together with Vidrala’s R&D&I department, was the company in charge of developing the new systems: new pallet identification system, a new movement-location management application and the system for extracting data from SAP.

Improved tracking

At the Caudete plant, Vidrala has a warehouse covering an area of 84,000m2, part of which is set aside as a “quarantine” area for finished products undergoing quality control. The rest of the space is organised according to product ranges and references. Per-unit tracking of pallets was a priority for the company. The use of RFID technology was proposed for this, with a view to solving two types of problems: on the one hand, introducing RFID brought about wholesale automation of the pallet scanning and identification process and, on the other hand, it avoided the problems of reading traditional barcodes through shrink-wrapping. Furthermore, some of Vidrala’s customers had begun demanding per-unit listings of all the pallets delivered.

According to José Manuel Delicado, in charge of the project at Vidrala, “after an in-depth analysis of the problems we had, it was clear that RFID could be the ideal solution for our process, although it was not wholly free of risks, since this project would have an effect on all the key areas of our business such as logistics, quality control or IT systems.”

For pallet identification, a tag has been incorporated in the DIN A4 sheet. When the sheet is printed, the pallet’s unique identification is recorded on the tag. For the recording of the tags in this process, Intermec IF30 fixed mount RFID readers were used, connected to the printing process and to the robots of the DIN A4 sheet applying machine. JSV has been responsible for the entire setting up of the printing systems and of the robotic equipment. One of the main technical aims of the project was to integrate the recording system in Vidrala’s labelling equipment and in the other processes without making changes to the work operations.

Vidrala also uses forklift trucks equipped with RFID readers, so the processes of location and picking of orders and the corresponding identification of the different pallets are fully automated. Vidrala fitted its forklifts with Intermec IV7 readers and with CV30 vehicle mount terminals, which direct the operations of the warehouse workers. These readers or interrogators are especially designed to operate on forklift trucks, so the reading is done instantaneously with the handling of the pallet.

Vidrala opted for Intermec RFID technology and infrastructure. “Among the solutions available on the market, this one seemed likely to be a good option for us, taking into account our needs and the quality/price ratio offered by Intermec,” adds Delicado.

Should it be necessary to re-label pallets, the operatives have Intermec CN3 handheld units fitted with an IP30 reader/recorder. In this process the operative reads a barcode and records the same information on the tag.
The employees have given the new system a positive welcome. “The response and involvement of our operatives has been very positive, since the system helps them to work accurately, optimising the processes,” comments Delicado.

Vidrala has a huge number of references and it is often difficult to differentiate one from another visually, so the previous manual identification procedure led to errors in the order picking process. With RFID identification, these errors have disappeared completely.

The future

The system is already in operation at Vidrala’s Albacete plant and in the next two years the company plans to extend it progressively to the rest of its production centres.

“Furthermore, the fact that we have technology that allows per-unit control of each pallet opens up doors to numerous processes for improvement in different areas, especially in logistics, quality control or customer service,” says Delicado.

One of the most immediate projects involves integrating the RFID solution with the SAP system in a totally transparent way. “This will enable us, for example, not only to achieve one hundred per cent reliability in the dispatch processes, but also to reduce significantly the administration they require and to speed up the processes of documentation with the carriers and customers to the greatest possible extent.”

Likewise, a total integration of RFID with ERP will make it possible to achieve realtime consolidation of data relating to stock, orders and dispatching, optimising the planning and performance of the operations even more, so that the planning and production data generated in SAP can be exploited directly by the RFID system and the reverse will also be true at the time of reconciling the dispatches with the batches of products.