January 29, 2014

6 Min Read
RFID streamlines book distribution
books_leaning_v2

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As a result of installing two automated RFID labeler/applicators, international book logistics provider Centraal Boekhuis now has the capability to tag more than 10 million books/year.

Centraal Boekhuis, Culemborg, The Netherlands, provides logistics services for approximately 1,500 booksellers and 500 publishers. It transports approximately 4.5 million packages annually. The company offers 80,000 Dutch language books and 10 times as many books in other languages.

When the company was first established in 1871 by publishers and booksellers, its aim was to create a simple, efficient system for the distribution of books. In its 138-year-history, Centraal Boekhuis has transformed how the organization manages its logistics services to keep up with changes in technology and distribution channels. However, the logistics provider's objective—to offer publishers and booksellers optimized logistics services—remains relevant to this day.

Laborious operation

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The drive for item-level tagging started when a Centraal Boekhuis major account—Boekhandels Groep Nederland—opened its first Selexyz store in 2006 and wanted to use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to enhance its customers' experiences. The SmartStore in Almere, Netherlands, was the first of two automated bookshops that use item-level RFID tagging along with SOA business applications from Progress Software Corp. (www.progress.com) to deliver an integrated warehouse-to-consumer supply chain.

When Centraal Boekhuis received an electronic order from the SmartStore, the logistics provider previously would apply RFID tags to the books manually. Each RFID tag is encoded with an item-level serial number that tracks the book from the time it is packed to its final destination in the store. This process allowed Selexyz staff and customers to access real-time information about the books in an efficient manner, but it also proved to be very labor-intensive for Centraal Boekhuis and therefore ultimately only feasible for a small number of Selexyz stores.

Noting a strong business case for item-level tagging for retailers and anticipating this to continue to pull demand for RFID services through the supply chain, Centraal Boekhuis concluded that an automated print-and-apply RFID application would be needed to replace manual tagging to future-proof its RFID operation.

Ambitious goals

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Item-level RFID tagging of books offers a highly
productive method for verifying the contents of
a case before it is shipped out. This is becoming more important as Centraal Boekhuis customers put increasing pressure on delivery timelines.

To help build an automated solution, Centraal Boekhuis met with several suppliers including Logopak (www.logopak.com), a supplier with which it already had a good relationship. “In June 2007, we went to CB to present our solution and to clarify the technical details,” remarks Carsten Schweder, project manager for Logopak.

These technical details included ambitious project specifications: The RFID system would need to print and apply a label EPC Class 1 Gen 2 RFID tag to 60 books/min, allow for an 80 mm height variation in the books and include data verification.

At the end of September 2007, Logopak presented a prototype system to Centraal Boekhuis. They mutually agreed to test the system in December 2007. On February 29, 2008, Logopak replaced an existing 906 II TB from one of Centraal Boekhuis' labeling lines and replaced it with the new RFID system without making any changes to the line controller or any other line conditions. “A delegation of approximately 30 people from Centraal Boekhuis, Logopak, TAGSYS (www.tagsysrfid.com), NXP Semiconductors (www.nxp.com) and UPM Raflatac (www.upmraflatac.com), etc., were following the test,” recalls Schweder. “After some adjustment of the antennae, the system ran perfectly!”

Without human intervention

The new system is an upgraded version of the 906 II TB system, which had been a proven performer for Centraal Boekhuis bar-code and labeling lines. “These applicators have strongly driven forward the productivity and accuracy in our tagging processing,” explains Ronald Janssen, senior manager of IT for Centraal Boekhuis. “These applicators print the label, code the tag, lock the tag and apply the tag to a book automatically, without any human intervention. By implementing two of these applicators, we have the capacity to tag more than 10 million books per year, which is not the volume [of RFID-tagged books] we have today, but that is the volume that we expect that we'll go to within the next couple of years.”

Leading for its customers

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Centraal Boekhuis distributed more than 67 million books in 2008. This averages to approximately 220,000 books/day.

While 10 million books is a significant number, it represents less than one-sixth the number of books distributed by Centraal Boekhuis last year. In 2008, the logistics provider distributed more than 67 million books, which averages about 220,000 books/day.

The RFID operation might occupy a small footprint in Centraal Boekhuis' capacious distribution center, but it represents a substantial and continual commitment to RFID technology by Centraal Boekhuis with investments in RFID labelers both from Logopak and Avery Dennison Corp. (www.monarch.averydennison.com), and a RFID tunnel from CaptureTech (www.capturetech.com). Most recently, the company purchased handheld readers from ATID (www.atid1.com).

The company's use of the hand-held readers was prompted by a need to research the technology for its retail customers.

“We're a logistics company—we have lots of square meters,” remarks Janssen. “Putting an RFID-read tunnel in, from a space point of view, isn't an issue for us; if you go into a shop, the square meters are rare. Shops want to use as much of the area available for selling stuff, not warehousing operations.”

Unexpected benefits

Centraal Boekhuis discovered not only were the hand-held readers a good solution for its customers, but they also were a cost-effective solution for its own operation. Janssen reports that the new hand-held readers cost approximately one-fifth of the market price for the RFID-read tunnels when they first appeared on the scene, and he notes that the reading technology is good and quickly improving.


More information is available:

Logopak, 866/901-9343. www.logopak.com.

ATID—All That Identification, 82-2-544-1436. www.atid1.com.

Avery Dennison Corp., Printer Systems Div., 800/543-6650. www.monarch.averydennison.com.

CaptureTech, 888/860-7226. www.capturetech.com.

NXP Semiconductors, 408/434-3000. www.nxp.com.

Progress Software Corp., 781/280-4000. www.progress.com.

TAGSYS, 617/674-5500. www.tagsysrfid.com.

UPM Raflatac, 828/651-4800. www.upmraflatac.com.

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