Using RFID to improve
traceability in process industry
Experiments in a distribution chain
for iron ore pellets
m and Erik Vanhatalo
University of Technology, Lulea
Purpose – The purpose of the paper is to explore the application of radio frequency identiﬁcation
(RFID) to improve traceability in a ﬂow of granular products and to illustrate examples of special
issues that need to be considered when using the RFID technique in a process industry setting.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper outlines a case study at a Swedish mining company,
including experiments to test the suitability of RFID to trace iron ore pellets (a granular product) in
parts of the distribution chain.
Findings – The results show that the RFID technique can be used to improve traceability in granular
product ﬂows. A number of special issues concerning the use of RFID in process industries are also
highlighted, for example, the problems to control the orientation of the transponder in the read area
and the risk of product contamination in the supply chain.
Research limitations/implications – Even though only a single case has been studied, the results
are of a general interest for industries that have granular product ﬂows. However, future research in
other industries should be performed to validate the results.
Practical implications – The application of RFID described in this paper makes it possible to
increase productivity and product quality by improving traceability in product ﬂows where
traceability normally is problematic.
Originality/value – Prior research has mainly focused on RFID applications in discontinuous
processes. By contrast, this paper presents a novel application of the RFID technique in a continuous
process together with speciﬁc issues connected to the use of RFID.
Keywords Radio frequencies, Mining industry, Distribution management, Sweden
Paper type Research paper
Most companies strive to deliver high-quality products with a minimum number of
defects. However, product recall announcement in newspapers and at internet sites are
not uncommon, which proves that defective or deviating products are not always
identiﬁed before they reach the customer. Traceability is not only important to
minimize the extent of product recalls (Juran and Gryna, 1980), but also to be able to
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The authors thank LKAB for the access to the studied case and the ﬁnancial support that
enabled this research. Furthermore, the authors thank Henirk Lindstro
m and Juha Rajala at
Electrotech for support with the mounting of the RFID reader and technical issues, Kent Tano
and Soﬁa Nordqvist at LKAB for their valuable help with practical issues, and Bjarne Bergquist
and Kerstin Va
nnman at Lulea
University of Technology for valuable input to this paper.
The authors thank the editor and reviewers for insightful comments that improved this paper.
Received October 2008
Revised March 2009
Accepted June 2009
Journal of Manufacturing Technology
Vol. 21 No. 1, 2010
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited