“Grower’s Own ERP” is a greenhouse management solution that was developed by Knox Nursery in their busy greenhouse environment over a seven year period. Innovation has been the key to meeting the specific needs of a nursery producing millions of plugs & liners each year. In December of 2006, RFID item-level tagging was implemented as an innovative way to track plug trays in the greenhouse from production through growing and finally shipping. In fact, Knox Nursery, using Grower’s Own, was able to be the 1st bedding plant plug grower (GoPlug) to use RFID Item-Level tagging.
What is RFID Item-Level Tagging? RFID means Radio Frequency Identification and is the latest technology that allows you to assign an identification code to a product, much like barcodes do now. Except that RFID technology can be read from varying ranges through materials like plastic and cardboard. With RFID, you could potentially scan an entire pallet’s worth of product in a few seconds without breaking it down to barcode scan each item. To use RFID, you must have an RFID controller with antennas and an RFID tag placed on a pallet, box, or item.
This is where a lot of confusion about what RFID is really used for. RFID can be implemented in many different ways – pallets, bins, cartons, and down to the item level. You may have heard of the “Wal-Mart RFID mandates”. The first rounds of this mandate were really focused on applying RFID to the pallet or carton level so that Wal-Mart can quickly scan the shipment without breaking it down and then quickly route products through the distribution center.
This really doesn’t improve the operation of the producer/supplier in this relationship. It’s just a compliance issue. By using RFID item-level tagging, Knox Nursery found a way that RFID could greatly benefit it’s greenhouse operation and reduce overall costs. Using Grower’s Own, RFID was implemented in a way to allow normal greenhouse activities to occur without interfering with workflow, while still being able to collect data and help workers prevent errors. This concept is a departure from using barcodes, which require a user or fixed mount scanner to scan each product.
Why was RFID implemented with Grower’s Own? The answer: Because there is simply too much data to be collected in a fast-paced, high-volume greenhouse like Knox Nursery. Barcode data-collection is too cumbersome and time-consuming to effectively implement without being an undue burden on greenhouse workers and an overall cost due to increased labor. Using RFID allows workers to perform their work duties without interrupting their work-flow or having to constantly scan a barcode. Barcodes often get blocked by foliage or wet soil. RFID tags can be read through foliage, wet soil, boxes, or from distances while laying on benches – Even from the backside of a tray. The image at the left is a sample of the Knox Nursery’s RFID label & tag attached to each tray. This is a standard 5” x 5/8” label size that fits most plug trays. The RFID inlay pictured on the label back view is an Avery-Dennison AD-222.
Knox Nursery President, Bruce Knox said, “When we were looking at data-collection early in 2006, I thought, why do I want to attempt to do the same thing that other greenhouses have already struggled with for years now. Barcodes do work, but they can’t possibly be used to collect data without a burden on workers and an increase in labor cost. And barcode equipment is costly as well. I always believe that you have to do the next big thing – think out of the box.” This thinking has led to some innovative solutions.
Eric Claiborne, the lead developer of Grower’s Own, understood the issues and researched the feasibility of using RFID technology. Eric knew that RFID was an established technology but was cost prohibitive the last time he investigated in 2003. In July 2006, Eric did a new study on RFID and how it could be integrated into Grower’s Own. Eric found that the tags could now be placed on each tray for less than $.18 per label (down from over $1.00 each) and RFID (Symbol XR-400 Reader) equipment was not much more costly than barcode equipment. This was enough to pursue the idea even further.
Working with BizSpeed, Inc. in August 2006, Knox Nursery did an RFID Pilot to determine how RFID tags could be used in a greenhouse. Some limitations were found. A shipping rack full of trays could not be read because the steel frame interfered with the radio signal. Sometimes, “too many” trays were scanned in cases where only a few trays were intended because the reader found trays not the intended scan zone. It was determined that an entire bench of material could be read in seconds. Trays could be read without concern over barcodes obstructed by soil or dust. Trays could be packed into a rack or box without stopping for a barcode scan.
Using the findings of the RFID Pilot, Eric designed a workflow and software that allowed workers to work normally while the RFID tags are simultaneously scanned. Using the software design, a case study was done. The case study showed that even though RFID tags where substantially more costly than a standard label, there was an overall payback of less than one year. The reasons included:
- Data collection did not interfere with workflow and no increase in labor to perform scans.
- Improved yield data led to reduced disposal and increased inventory turns.
- Increased sales due to being able to sale extra trays via a forecasted availability.
- Performing avail rollover in 2 hours using the RFID Mass Data Collection portal, versus 3 days counting by hand.
- Real-time item validation in shipping reduced huge costs associated with errors.
Upon the successful completion of the RFID pilot, Bruce Knox made a decision to implement RFID data collection with Grower’s Own ERP. Working with BizSpeed, Eric Claiborne developed & began using the RFID data collection pieces of Grower’s Own in December 2006. Eric said, “We worked days, nights, and weekends for three months to develop the label, encoding application, and mobile devices. Using our existing label printers, we began encoding labels just before Christmas and had the greenhouse populated with RFID tagged trays by the end of January. At the time, I believed that Knox Nursery was the 1st greenhouse to implement RFID item-level tagging, and I haven’t found anyone else who disputes this claim.” Eric added, “The research, development and subsequent roll-out of this project was a substantial effort. We learned a lot about what it takes to successfully implement RFID in a greenhouse and nursery environment. We are excited about the ability to help other growers streamline production, inventory and shipping. They can truly take advantage of our RFID experience.”
What does Grower’s Own do, exactly? Grower’s Own is broken into several modules. There are core modules, task modules, and “GO Mobile” modules to perform specific functions. The central core modules are:
- Sales Order Entry
- Production, Seed, & Materials Planning
- Production Management
The task sub-modules are:
- GO Weigh Seed Management (Scale Based Inventory)
- GO SeedSow Production Line Interface (Controls production line)
- GO Label Print & Apply Labeling & RFID Encoding (Production Labels & RFID Encoding)
- GO Ship Packing Station, Featuring real-time FedEx Label Printing (Validates shipment using RFID and prints FedEx label)
- GO Mass Data Collect Portal (Allows scanning of full beds in seconds)
The GO Mobile Computer modules are (Using Symbol/Motorola devices such as MC9090 RFID) :
- Mobile Disposals (Dump, Used Rework, Used for Transplant, and Resow)
- Mobile Growing Starts
- Mobile Container Revivals
- Mobile Verification
- Trading Partner Business to Business data exchange via XML documents. PO’s, Advanced Shipment Notification (ASN), Inventory Availability.
- Inventory Location Tracking via RFID — Know where your inventory is located for picking purposes. To be developed as a stand-alone application with an interface module to most other existing inventory systems.
Videos of RFID at Knox Nursery on YouTube:
RFID tag encoding – putting into production at seed sowing
RFID Shipping with FedEx
RFID Rack Shipping Portal
As you can see, there are enough modules to cover the entire business cycle from an incoming PO through production and finally shipment & invoicing. In the name “Grower’s Own ERP”, “ERP” stands for Enterprise Resource Planning and refers to the entire business cycle so that all information is shared and managed in a way to maximize the effectiveness of the greenhouse from order to delivery.
Many people want to know if RFID has to be installed as the complete Grower’s Own system or if it can be done in modules. Individual modules can be installed and integrated with existing inventory systems or the complete Grower’s Own can be installed. Modules provide a good path to RFID for those customers with established greenhouse management systems.
BizSpeed, Inc. is the authorized reseller and can implement Grower’s Own ERP and RFID in your greenhouse operation. For more information, contact Eric Claiborne at BizSpeed, firstname.lastname@example.org, 866.270.0541 x323.