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Nov 18, 2013

Problems with RF Tracking and Trolley Abuse

Radio frequency (RF) tracking is a system used for plant traceability where radio frequency tags are embedded into a material and attached to the trolleys in a plant. They travel with the trolley through a plant and pass by reading stations which read each trolley’s tag as a unique identification. The system can then attach data to these tags via a database. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

carcass tracking with Trolley Vision

Trolley Vision System with Camera and Light

Unfortunately, a plant with trolleys and carcasses is not a welcoming place for a  fragile radio tag. Trolleys are subject to very harsh treatment generally. First, they are often mishandled and thrown around. Trolleys themselves are very sturdy pieces of equipment, so this doesn’t seem like a big deal usually, but once a small chip is attached, it requires more refined handling. Aside from mishandling, wash down and oil bath procedures are usually performed on the trolleys which can cause damage to any additions to the trolley. For tags embedded in metal and welded to the trolley, oil baths with other trolleys can wear at the welded piece and break or remove the tag.

trolley_vision2

Our solution for RF is to encase the tag in a plastic molding and mounted inside the spoke of the trolley wheel where it will be better protected. Still, damage from the environment and handling is difficult to avoid and radio frequencies can be difficult to master. If you have to constantly replace RF tags, we might have other options for you as well. Our Trolley Vision® is another variant of traceability based on vision systems rather than RF systems. It requires a specially drilled pattern into the trolley strap which decodes as a unique ID that can be read by cameras around the plant. It does not compromise the strength of the trolley, but at the same time it is permanent. This bypasses the fragility of RF systems entirely. carcass tracking

Both systems work, but the Trolley Vision® system is a more permanent solution. We can help you in knowing what solution might fit your operations best.

Trolley Vision RF System

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Trolley Vision for Tracking Carcasses

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Oct 14, 2013

Trolley Vision® RF tag: Maximizing Read Rates

The carcass tracking tool known as Trolley Vision® is a proven method of positively linking vital information about each carcass as it progresses through a slaughter facility.  Yields, shrink data, and even trolley maintenance can be managed with Trolley Vision®.

trolley vision RF_01

There are two approaches to Trolley Vision®.  In one approach, we drill a unique pattern of holes in each trolley strap.  The other is called Trolley Vision® RF, in which the RF stands for Radio Frequency.

With either approach, you will not get a mis-read.  The difficulty is in trying to maximize read rates and to minimize no reads.

The challenges in maximizing read rates for the RF tag approach are:

  1. Keeping the transponder attached to the trolley
  2. Minimizing chip failure
  3. Delaying impact deterioration of the insert

trolley vision CTA

Our patented approach addresses all three of these problems.  Here’s how.

First, our two-part molded clamp attaches to the trolley by a screw that passes through the trolley wheel and the two pieces.  While this does not make it impossible for the RF tag to become detached from the trolley, it is a very secure method of attachment that reduces that likelihood.

Secondly, to help minimize chip failure, those molded pieces have a low profile and fit in the recessed cavities on both sides of the trolley wheel.  The embedded RF chip is contained in the molding opposite the trolley strap to add an additional degree of protection against failure.

Finally, it is important to be realistic about what happens to trolleys in slaughter facilities.  The rough treatment they receive can be seen in the nicks, dents, and grooves that appear in the metal.  It is inevitable that RF ID tags are going to be on the receiving end of impact damage, also  In order to delay the deterioration that will occur from these impacts, we encase the tag in a protective polymer to increase its longevity.  We chose to protect the chip in this polymer instead of steel so that the communication signal would not be compromised.

Over the years we have seen a multitude of RF solutions for the trolley ID application. While we know that we have the best RF application, our experience has also taught us that RF is difficult to maintain in a plant environment that has a lot of inherent radio frequency interference and electromagnetic interference. Due to the high cost of a trolley tracking system, it behooves the purchaser to thoroughly evaluate the Trolley Vision® vision system whenever contemplating a radio frequency solution.

Whether your preference is drilled trolleys or RF tags, we have many years of experience designing trolley tracking systems that fit your needs and your budget.

Trolley Vision RF System

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Oct 8, 2013

Trolley Vision®: Dealing with Oil Bath Problems

Using vision systems for trace ability is a very powerful solution to current carcass tracking problems, and we have been harnessing that with our Trolley Vision® system, but it isn’t as simple as stuffing a camera into an industrial plant and assuming that it will work without any outside aid. What happens when that vision is blocked by something?

Our Trolley Vision® analyzes an encoded pattern of holes drilled into each trolley’s strap. This works exceptionally, but because of certain regular plant processes, these holes can be blocked. One particular process that can have this effect is the oil baths that trolleys receive regularly.

Trolleys are submerged in oil regularly so that they roll smoothly and are protected from things like rust since they are often made from metals that aren’t rust-proof. When the small holes in the trolley are submerged, oil tends to stick in the holes because of its high viscosity. This can make it more difficult to see through the holes when they reach the Trolley Vision® camera, even if a back light is used.

trolley_vision2

We knew this was going to be an issue in most plants, so we added a component to the Trolley Vision®  system. Initially, this was a blower which would blast each trolley with air to remove excess oil in the holes. However, this couldn’t be the ultimate solution because the oil was not controlled as it was removed and could end up on carcasses. Even if the oil was food grade, we thought it would be better to avoid that scenario entirely.

trolley vision RF_01

The next option was to use a suction system, which proved to be the better idea. This would remove the oil like a vacuum, and a hose would direct it somewhere where it wouldn’t get on any future food products. After being cleaned, these trolleys would proceed past the camera and back light which would send that image to an interface where the software would automatically determine the ID of that trolley.

Every day brings challenges in the industry, but with the right systems and proper installation, solutions such as Trolley Vision® can easily accomplish trolley tracking where other systems fail. 

Trolley Vision for Tracking Carcasses

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Aug 12, 2013

Problems with Tracking for Country of Origin Labeling

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is an important practice in the meat industry. It helps businesses to make more informed selections and assures the customer that this product has been followed and monitored through all the processing steps.

The difficulty with country of origin labeling itself is not due to the actual labeling so much as it is due to the demands for consistent, accurate tracking. Tracking has always been a hardship of meat producers everywhere. For example, tracking the trim of every single animal going into some ground beef makes COOL nearly impossible in that situation without careful planning.

Though COOL might struggle with varied, mixed products, it is much easier to enact when dealing with boxes of product that contain a smaller number of similar cuts. We can help you run a well-organized COOL operation with Trolley Vision®.

Trolley Vision® is a vision-based identification system that enables producers to assign specific numbers to each carcass that comes through a plant. When an animal arrives at a processing plant, Trolley Vision® can take all the preliminary information like country of origin, lot, and supplier and link it directly to that carcass.

Once you have linked that information, the next step in COOL requires careful planning. After going through the hot scale and the cooler the carcasses are ready to be cut down to individual cuts of meat. This means removing them from their trolleys which could mean losing the data assigned to that meat.

There are a few viable ways to keep the info intact to meet COOL standards. You could simply use time. If you know an animal’s origin and when it started down the cutting line, you can use the average cutting time to estimate the origin for the cuts that come out at the labeling end. This is easy to do, but there are a lot of factors with cutting time that could make it inaccurate.

A better way could be organizing your cutting schedule to run animals from certain lots in a row so that you know that they are all originating in the same place. Markers can be placed on the conveyor to signal labeling operators when a change in lot or supplier is occurring.

Lastly, you can use distance-based encoding to know when products of specific origin are going to arrive at labeling, as long as products are not allowed to pass one another.

Country of origin labeling might be a difficult process, but we are dedicated to making it easy on you, so that you can maintain a high quality operation. With proper tracking, software, and planning, you could have a secure handle on where each of your products is coming from. Let us help you make that a reality.

Trolley Vision Brochure

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Aug 1, 2013

Trolley Vision® Automatic Trolley ID Encoding Problems & Costs

We have encoded hundreds of thousands of meat trolleys with Trolley Vision® identification patterns over the years and other than a mere handful of duplication mistakes that we have taken care of and fixed, there are no duplicates of all the numbers that we have encoded world wide.

trolley vision

Trolley Vision System with light and camera

This is a very important aspect of an automatic meat trolley identification system.

To give you some idea, it is our goal to never encode the same number twice on the same type of trolley, no matter who we were doing the encoding for.

Thus as an example, if Major Meat Packer A and Major Meat Packer B both used the same type of trolleys, they could NEVER have the same number.  Even for example, if both companies had us encode all Their trolleys and Major Meat Packer A bought Major Meat Packer B and intermixed ALL trolleys from both companies.

We are often asked, “well, can’t I encode my own trolleys locally?”

While it may or may not be technically possible, my answer is why do you want to do it?

Trolley Vision® pattern encoding has a lot of potential pitfalls. It is far easier to screw the process up than you may think. And with a cost of a trolley 8 – 25 times the cost of the encoding, the impact of a screw up can be devastating!!!!

We keep a number list of every single number pattern we have done and we know we have not duplicated those numbers worldwide.

Machine shops, users with machining capability, and competitors beware!!!!

You have to ask yourself, do you want the potential liability of screwing up not only a single job of trolley encoding, but an industry of legal heavy weights who use the same automatic identification numbering systems?

Or you or the folks asking you to do the encoding will say that they will keep your trolleys separate huh? Yeah right!

In my experience it is not possible.

I have seen a completely different automatic trolley ID vision pattern (designed, implemented, and maintained by a particular beef company exclusively) of encoded trolleys in practically all of it’s competitors plants!

People who know meat trolleys know trolleys migrate to different plants and even different companies.

As a rule, we purposely do not share the numbers lists, dimensions, pattern methods, and tolerances as this is Vande Berg Scale’s proprietary information.

It takes a large outlay of experience, equipment, personnel, training, and verification equipment.

Programming the machining equipment to repeat a process is normal and characteristic of CNC equipment, however, programming CNC equipment to make a different part automatically every time can be very difficult and prone to mistakes, not to mention keeping the number patterns straight.

A QC process must be in place to assure no duplicates are produced. 

Then there is the problem of supply and demand.

smokehouse tracking with trolley vision

Generally, when encoding a plant, it is very easy to get trolleys without patterns early in the project. Think of it, in the beginning not a single trolley has been encoded.

But how long does it take to find the last 1000, 100, 10 or even the very last trolley?

We have waited months to years to do the last group of trolleys for a plant.

Most machining organizations charge setup fees and will repeatedly charge for re-setup.

However, even if no setup fees exist, will the encoding personnel remember all the intricate details involved with the encoding process?

Remember, each mistake generally costs the price of one trolley: $ 25.00 to $ 50.00 each.

Multiply that times how many mistakes: 10? 100? 1000?

You get the idea.

You must also deburr both sides of all 9 holes (18 deburr operations of every single trolley!) and yes, that needs to be done manually in our experience!

Then, there are logistic problems of getting the trolleys moved in, encoded, deburred, verified, and then removed.

Next, there is a matter of turn around.

We use six CNC machines that are specifically designed to encode the Trolley Vision® patterns, allowing us to load a trolley on each machine, while simultaneously machining the ID pattern in the same machine at the same time.

Employee training is huge as a repeatedly-made mistake can cost many times the wages of the worker doing the work.

Finally, on top of it all, is a dirty, physically demanding project that takes a good deal of facility space, loading dock, utilities, and real estate.

Over a decade of experience has taught us the proper and improper way of doing this highly precise and demanding process.

In the risk vs. reward category, we have all found our positions with experience, skill sets, and efforts.

It would be like me putting new windows in my house. Could I do a good job with no mistakes the first time? Not a chance; at least not efficiently.

If I am smart, I will hire it done by someone who has done it a lot and knows exactly how to do it.

We have done a LOT of Trolley Vision® encoding.

We would be honored to do a great job for you, efficiently, without duplications in the industry (based on our extensive database), and on a realistic time schedule the first time.

And no, I don’t believe for a second that I will be buying very many trolleys.

Tours of our trolley encoding facility can be arranged with any qualified prospect!

Trolley Vision Brochure

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