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Workflow and RFID enabled system for automated and paperless Warehouse operations

Final Report Summary - W-RESPONSE (Workflow and RFID enabled system for automated and paperless Warehouse operations)

The major scientific and technical objective of the W-RESPONSE project was to investigate and assess the potential of combining workflow and Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in order to implement a totally re-configurable and automated warehouse management system that could be easily adopted by the European Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) independently of the business sector they belong. The configuration capabilities of the W-RESPONSE system itself will more or less position the overall solution as a warehouse process automation system implementation platform, efficiently coping with both conventional barcode and emerging RFID technology. The core business objective of the project is to analyse the factors that present diversity per company and business sector (e.g. product labelling model, warehouse operation model, warehouse implementation model etc.) in order to provide a fully integrated corporate resource that could be widely adopted within the European SME community and evolve following the evolution of its user enterprises.

The aim was to model all these factors and provide a system that could adjust to each deployment environment without the need to alter the code, but only through configuration activities. Moreover, its configuration ability will enable enterprises to utilise the same software even when they wish to modify their operation model (e.g. building of a new larger warehouse), since the aim of the software itself will be to get embedded within the enterprise (not just used), and change according to the enterprise's requirements by its own personnel, as they understand the warehouse operation model and depict it in software configuration semantics. This is feasible only when the software has been built with meta-modelling techniques, employing a flexible way to design and simulate flows of activities and documents and incorporating strong mechanisms for performance monitoring for continuous improvement. In this context, one of the major policy objectives of the project is to deliver a best practice guide for European SMEs reflecting a step-by-step approach in building and operating efficient warehouse through advanced technology and process orientation.

RFID technology has been recently examined as a potential solution towards fully automated warehouse and distribution activities, even though the technology itself is not new in such environments (hand-held terminals are using Radio frequency (RF) for communicating with the central hub of the wireless network). Unlike bar code technology, RFID systems are a non-line-of-sight solution that can read several RFID tags simultaneously. However, several obstacles have kept RFID from gaining acceptance in enterprises. Some of these obstacles included RF transmission distance, tag reader sensitivity, complexity of the software involved and the high cost of business re-engineering through experimentation and implementation of RFID solutions.

The consortium combined the needs and business environment knowledge (by user SMEs) and the scientific and technological excellence in the project domains (by Research and technological development (RTD) performers). Transnational cooperation was accomplished, since the faced issues were of pan-European in nature and the knowhow required for the timely and efficient implementation of the project was tackled efficiently by the consortium. Moreover, the cooperation among users and RTD performers from different European countries provided the basis for a more thorough analysis in the variation to be supported by the system and enabled SMEs to benefit by exchanging business knowledge with each other and sharing technological excellence with international RTD performers.

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