A locally developed customised asset tracking system using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has been recognised for its versatility and sophistication by leading UK company Scottish Courage Brewing LTD with the award to the system developers, Saco Systems, of a R45m order for itsextensive roll-out at the brewer.
The contract calls for, among others, the supply of 1,5 million RFID/contactless smart tags, handheld and fixed readers for 30 depots and six breweries and open database compliant (ODBC) distribution management software. Saco Systems, a Reunert group company, is also tasked to undertake the turnkey installation and commissioning of the complete container tracking system.
Branded as Saco-Track, the RFID-based system is to be used to track the brewer's draught beer kegs and other beverage containers.
The Edinburgh-based brewer, part of listed Scottish & Newcastle plc - which also has substantial interests in pubs, restaurants, hotels and holiday villages in the UK and Europe - operates a total of six breweries and numerous depots in the UK. The brands of beer it produces include Courage, John Smith's Newcastle Brown Ale and Theakstons's.
The R45m order follows the successful implementation and extensive field trials of a system installed in Scotland as part of a R13m contract awarded in 1997. The scope of work of the new contract includes the development of a countrywide computer-based tracking system, installation of handheld terminal equipment in each of Scottish Courage's 1000 delivery trucks and the supply of RF smartcard tags.
The initial fast-track Scottish Courage project demanded the development of:
* A customised virtually tamper-proof RF smart tag encapsulated in a rugged injection-moulded plastic hemisphere which can be permanently attached to the metal kegs.
* A handheld terminal and reader with the dual capability of being able to read both RF tags and bar code labels.
* A separate application of RFID technology, to provide for reading of beer keg tags on the production lines in the breweries, which requires that the reading be done at much longer range than applies in the case of external deliveries and collections.
To find the right solutions, the Saco Systems team had to conduct a thorough investigation of the company's requirements beforehand. For example, only after spending many days with brewery draymen were they able to design the optimal handheld terminal that met the draymen's needs for speed and ease of use.
To complicate matters it had to be a dual-purpose terminal suitable for both RF and bar code transactions, as the company also handles other breweries' products, which are bar coded.
Attaching the tags to the barrels was also a challenge in that there is a variety of barrels in both aluminium and stainless steel as well as different curvatures. The process and the tag had to be vandal-resistant; hence a holder was designed and the tag specially made to handle forces of many Gs - over and above the need to withstand exposure to steam and cleaning fluids.
According to Saco Systems Marketing and Sales Manager Richard Dinkelmann the project represents a major breakthrough into the overseas market for commercial asset tracking systems. The company sees it as a stepping stone into several related applications and other major markets, including Europe and the US.
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