Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) has been a boon to the logistics industry. From Walmart to the U.S. Department of Defense, RFID is quickly becoming an integral part of the distribution and tracking process in materials handling operations.
The CHALLENGE: Until now, mounting RFID readers in roller conveyor systems was complicated. Metal rollers interfere with transponder signals and often have to be removed. Mounting the antennas within the conveyor bed requires custom brackets and hardware.
The SOLUTION: Enter the SmartRoller, a joint project developed by Pittston, Pa.-based WEPCO, Inc. and RFID Inc. of Colorado. The SmartRoller neatly resolves most of the RFID challenges by placing the antenna inside a hollow roller that fits into an existing conveyor system.
The BACKSTORY: The SmartRoller was developed in response to challenges WEPCO encountered in the field. The industry needed an RFID reader in a roller that was plug-and-play: simple, clean, easy to maintain and replace.
RFID requires continuous scanning of products at various points on the conveyor to direct them to the proper destination. But the antenna and simultaneous transmission problems can often affect production and distribution operations. The current method of solving the problem is to take a roller out and put in a fixed antenna. It’s kind of a cobbled-up retrofit, WEPCO CEO Chris Paulsen explains.
Starting with an existing RFID reader, “We talked to the manufacturer (RFID, Inc.) to see what was available,” Paulsen said. Since there was nothing to meet the need, WEPCO worked with RFID, Inc. to develop a new solution.
In this case, that led to the development of the SmartRoller. No longer a cobbled-up retrofit, the antenna and circuit board are both placed inside a hollow roller that snaps into the existing conveyor system. “With the SmartRoller, you just pop out one roller and pop in our reader. It’s a seamless integration.”
PATENT PENDING: Under a patent application now pending, the SmartRoller consists of an integrated antenna and RFID reader mounted to the core inside a roller tube. Roller bearing end caps and spring-loaded hex shaft mounting pegs allow the SmartRoller to be easily inserted in place of an existing roller. The antenna and controller constantly communicate with at least one transponder moving along the interrogation path. This eliminates shortcomings in RFID operations.
WEPCO is working with RFID Inc., the worldwide leader in RFID, to manufacture and market the SmartRoller. WEPCO is also co-marketing the device to its own clients.
INNOVATION — PART OF THE WEPCO COMPANY CULTURE: It might be a bit of a stretch to say that Paulsen and WEPCO go looking for trouble, but there is no doubt that they can handle it when they find it. For four decades WEPCO has been developing a reputation for innovative thinking that solves problems, simplifies systems, and saves their clients money in elegant and creative ways. From an x-ray system that helps the snack industry improve product quality to the world’s largest horizontal carousel system built for an online footwear retailer, WEPCO finds a way to help its clients do more more efficiently.
The SmartRoller is just one of the many innovations created by CEO Chris Paulsen, president Larry Strayhorn and their team. It demonstrates WEPCO’s commitment to finding solutions that help clients. “It comes out of the ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be great if we could just get this . . . mentality of our staff'”, Paulsen says. “Fundamentally, if we come up with a requirement we can’t meet with existing technology, we look for a way it can be done.”
"With the SmartRoller, you just pop out one roller and pop in our reader. It's a seamless integration."
WEPCO CEO Chris Paulsen