RFID Improves Plant Growers’ Efficiency
The Puzzle that is multiple plant-growing identification
Outgrowing Data Management
A Dutch plant-grower produces approximately 21 million plants from plant cuttings per annum, in a breath-taking variation of approximately 1000 sorts and colours. For identification purposes, a colour-coded system with plastic sticks (with some areas barcode) was used to identify planted batches. All operational data was collected with the pen-paper system, manually converted to an office system – producing the management information needed to manage/control the enormous operation. The grower was keen to organise and tighten-up procedures in this fast-turnover environment.
Life-cycle & Process Tracking and Tracing
Imagine a solution that enabled tracing the seedlings from the planting bench to the location in the green house, right down to the location on their position on the growing table – even when they are relocated on another growing table or greenhouse. Additionally, consider that tracing the actual status of the planted batch in sense of percentage growth success, irrigation provided, fertilization and any chemical applications used on each individual batch will provide a considerably better-informed control of the stock -potentially increasing the output. It sounds complicated and expensive, but RFIDdirect have found an RFID solution that avoids these two major stumbling blocks faced by many in the horticulture industry.
First Step: The Scope
RFIDdirect conducted a full scoping to map the individual production processes as part of the data capture solution and in preparation for the software specifications. Collecting operational data with hand-held scanners and using RFID as identification for the individual batches was thought to be the key to a successful solution on this scale.
Pen and paper v digital solution?
The scoping also projected the costs involved for data collecting and processing, as part of developing the business case for an automatic data capture solution. Enabling RFID would provide: a more precise inventory of product, ensure a more accurate product flow in the greenhouse, dispatch area and benefit customer delivery expectations.
The Potential Advantages of RFID
The main consideration in changing from Barcode labels in this environment is that they can´t be read if they´re damaged, dirty, or fallen off/lost. An RFID tag/label is sturdier and more resilient and can be read even when smudged. However, water is the biggest inhibitor of reading RFID tags, whilst higher level of humidity can affect the read range of the tags. To overcome these perennial problems within the technology itself, RFIDdirect has designed a patent pending, affordable RFID tag/plant-tray solution in close co-operation with the tray producer Bachmann in Switzerland. The RFID tag is thin enough to be processed through a RFID printer/encoder, robust enough to withstand the environment and clamped under an angle in the plant-tray to enable water drops to glide off.
Each planted batch is been given a unique identification number – batch number – which is encoded in the RFID tag. This identifier is stored in the database and all events are recorded against this number. A full historical traceability of the production cycle becomes available. This can help with troubleshooting, improving plant quality and increasing production yields.
The Solution Provided
The customer’s greenhouse site is of a scale and humidity that fixed reader installations in doorways would be very costly and complex. Fixed reader positions in this application would not guarantee a 98% reading of tags due to some plants overgrowing the tags and the variable orientation of the tags towards the reader antennas. Using hand-held scanners will overcome these problems as the operators are in control of what they scan.
RFIDdirect chose to deliver a system based on hand-held scanners, communicating via 4G and WiFi with a central Cloud Based Database Application. The individual operation processes are guided via an Android App installed on the hand-held scanners. Designed to be user-friendly and adaptable, only minimum support is required to build confidence and familiarity with operators.
The office and management have access to a WebApp providing the management reports, and creating the print instructions for the RFID printer/encoder, printing the tags with human readable information. RFIDdirect has provided an API for data exchange with the existing order process software.
Cultivating Results – Solving the Puzzle
For the customer, a simplified and precise knowledge of assets is now possible; removing a lot of work (labour costs) around labelling, identifying and data collection, for RFIDdirect, a very satisfactory result by their newly developed pallet/tag combination overcoming typical issues of scale and environment in reading tags within the horticultural setting.