Supply Chain Management


   

Q-Track Develops Forklift Tracking Application

Huntsville, Alabama December 12, 2008

When Q-Track first demonstrated a proof-of-concept real-time location system across 50,000 sqft of a Just-In-Time Services (JITS), Inc. warehouse in Hartselle, AL, the tracking “tag” was mounted on a tripod and had a two foot whip antenna. Nevertheless, Peter Beucher, was impressed. “The Q-Track team set up four receivers and was demonstrating bin level accuracy in a matter of a couple hours.” But Beucher, then President of JITS, had a sobering message for Q-Track. “My customers complain when I charge them $0.20 to stick a bar-code on a pallet. There’s no way anyone will pay for an active tag on each of the tens of thousands of assets in my warehouse.”

Later, Beucher realized there was a better way. “The pallets in my warehouse don’t move themselves – they only move when a forklift or hand truck moves them. If we could leverage standards based RFID systems to identify the pallet picked up by the forklift, then track the location of the forklift, and know where the forklift drops the pallet – then we’d know the exact location of the pallet at all times. Instead of thousand active tags, the system would only require as many active tags as there are forklifts.” Enthused, Beucher joined Q-Track as Vice President for Business Development in 2006. Beucher has a patent pending on his concept.

Q-Track has been working to make Beucher’s vision a reality. In a Small Business Innovative Research grant funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Q-Track developed a high efficiency miniature magnetic antenna system that enables a compact tag transmitter that can mount on a lift truck or hand truck. “Q-Track’s innovative Near-Field Electromagnetic Ranging or NFER® technology uses low power, low frequency signals to achieve superior propagation in warehouses and other difficult environments,” observes Dr. Hans Schantz, Q-Track’s CTO and Principal Investigator on the effort. “Our NSF-funded effort yielded an order of magnitude decrease in antenna size, from two feet to two inches, without an impact on system performance. It also demonstrated an order of magnitude savings in infra-structure and installation costs for competitive warehouse environments.”

In a recent demonstration, Q-Track’s NFER system used a compact tracking tag developed under the NSF effort to tracked a forklift in a JITS warehouse. The six locator-receiver system covered 50,000 sqft and tracked a forklift to bin level accuracy with orientation.

Q-Track continues to seek integration partners to assist in merging the NFER® forklift tracking system with a standard RFID interrogator and a backend inventory management system. “We believe this application provides a tremendous value proposition for the warehouse operator,” said Beucher. “I see this integrated system really paying off for the traditional military, pharmaceutical, automotive and consumer electronics industries where their supply chain demands not simply location awareness, but exact bin level, inventory accuracy for “just in time” supply capability.”

About The National Science Foundation: The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of $5.91 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 1,700 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes nearly 10,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly. For more information on the NSF, please see www.nsf.gov.

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