Suppliers for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. may have balked at having to deploy radio-frequency identification, but at Graniterock, in Watsonville, Calif., customers cant deploy the technology fast enough.
Since the construction company deployed RFID at all its locations, customers have benefited from a wealth of information based on the arrivals and departures of trucks through Graniterocks asphalt and quarry operations.
With more than 3 million pounds of granite, sand and other construction materials being loaded onto 600 trucks per day at the A.R. Wilson Quarry, Graniterocks largest, customers are happy to get as much information as possible.
During an on-site evaluation, eWEEK Labs was impressed by the efficiencies Graniterock has been able to attain by using its business intelligence reporting system in combination with RFID tagging. In fact, the company has been able to reduce by half the amount of time it takes to load customer trucks at its quarries.
The RFID project at Graniterock began in 2000. Steve Snodgrass, CIO of Graniterock, had already integrated Business Objects S.A.s Crystal Reports with PeopleSoft Inc.s Enterprise One enterprise resource planning and World change management applications. He decided to take Graniterocks BI a step further by using RFID tagging to collect data and then to track, manage, analyze and report on that operational data using Crystal Enterprise.
Working with Magenic Technologies Inc., a consulting firm in Minneapolis, Snodgrass deployed an RFID application called GraniteXpress 2, which was written using Microsoft Corp.s Visual Basic 6 and SQL Server 2000 and runs on Windows Server 2003. GraniteXpress 2, integrated with the Crystal Enterprise BI and reporting application suite, allows Graniterock to run reports that determine everything from supply chain efficiency to customer satisfaction.
Graniterocks IT managers decided to take a page from the railroad industrys technology playbook and use RFID tags—the same kind used to identify rail cars—on the companys trucks. The TC IP Ltd. passive tags (which transmit information but dont collect it) are mounted on the driver side of the trucks cab and collect data on inventory and supply movement. The RFID system processes the arrival and departure of trucks through the companys asphalt and quarry loading locations.
The night before a customers truck is scheduled to make a pickup, the customer calls Graniterock to provide information on the truck, including its RFID tag information, the load thats scheduled for pickup and the job for which the load will be used.
As a truck passes through a loading gate, the RFID tag is scanned, and the GraniteXpress 2 application determines which vehicle has entered the quarry and which company owns that truck. Electronic signs then automatically direct the truck driver to the loading station that has the materials the truck is scheduled to pick up. After the truck pulls into the loading station, the RFID system verifies the correct truck is in place, and then the construction materials are loaded. A checkout station then reads the RFID tag again, weighs the truck and prints a receipt.
The data is also used by Graniterock to generate billing invoices.
At the end of each day, Crystal Reports queries the companys Microsoft SQL Server database for information on the pickups that occurred that day and e-mails a report on each truck and its load to the trucks owner.
Customers use the reports to determine how quickly a particular construction job is progressing and how efficient their supply chains are.
“We now have statistics we can provide to our customers on how well each truck is doing,” Snodgrass said. “Crystal Reports enables us to provide a customer with complete visibility of whats going on in their organization so that they can compare the performance of different trucks and ask certain drivers why they were late.”
Before Graniterock deployed RFID, the company had three to five employees at each site manually processing each truck through the loading process. It took as long as 20 minutes for a truck to pick up its load and be entered into Graniterocks manual system. By automating the process, Graniterock has been able to save $300,000 a year in worker hours, said Snodgrass.
The efficiencies Graniterock customers have gained from the RFID system are equally impressive. The system lets Graniterock get 60 percent of trucks out of its quarries within 10 minutes and 100 percent of trucks out in 15 minutes or less, said Snodgrass. With trucks costing more than $1.25 per minute to operate, the savings potential is huge.
“In our industry, trucking costs are the highest, but its a variable cost that can be managed,” Snodgrass said. “We are able to capture the time a truck came and left, so if a truck was delayed a certain amount of time due to a problem on our end, a customer can look at the data and ask for some sort of compensation. Every minute a truck spends in quarry costs a customer money.”
And though Snodgrass said drivers were skeptical about the technology in the beginning and expressed concerns about privacy, he said those issues rarely come up any more.
“Some drivers asked whether the CHP [California Highway Patrol] could use the tags to track them, but we explained that wasnt possible,” Snodgrass said. “Most drivers are OK with the technology now.”
Graniterock continues to expand its use of Crystal Enterprise and Crystal Reports. Graniterock employees now use the portal features within Crystal Enterprise to access the more than 1,200 reports generated on everything from job costs to statistical product control graphs. Customers rely on the daily e-mail messages generated by Crystal Reports to get data on their trucking operations.
Snodgrass said hes working on an external portal that customers and partners will be able to access to pull up information on orders and run their own reports on particular deliveries. He expects to roll out the portal sometime next year.
“Our goal from an IT perspective is all about extending the information we have to our customers,” Snodgrass said. “The relationships we have with our customers are a big part of Graniterock, and we believe in strengthening those ties. At this company, these types of initiatives are simply the right thing to do in order to provide good customer service.”
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at [email protected].
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