By establishing its integrated sales, manufacturing, and customer call center in Xiamen, China, Dell Computer Corp. became the second largest integrated computer manufacturer in the Asia-Pacific region. This facility manufactures Dell's OptiPlex desktop PCs, Latitude notebook PCs and PowerEdge servers for customers and distributors in China.

When initially established, the facility was challenged by the lack of data capture automation for its production operations. This created bottlenecks throughout different production points that impacted productivity.

A system was needed to increase productivity and efficiency and to track inventory throughout the plant. The system requirements included read and write capability, and tag reusability. When Dell researched data capture systems and compared bar code vs. radio frequency identification (RFID), it realized that RFID was necessary. Dell evaluated several RFID companies and chose Escort Memory Systems (EMS, Scotts Valley, CA).

EMS' RFID system is used for two different processes at Dell China—manufacturing and shipping. The manufacturing process consists of 4,000 trays that have LRP-P5050 tags attached to the bottom. The production cycle starts with writing the tracking code and computer assembly instructions to the tags. This determines the specific assembly line the trays travel down. These trays then convey the computer components to one of 16 different assembly sections. At each section, the tags are read by an LRP820-04 antenna for specific work instructions. After the computer is assembled and tested, production information, such as date, time, section and employee code, is written to the tags. The LRP820 reader and writer sends the tag data to the control PC, where a shipping station is chosen for the computer. The fully assembled computer is diverted to the appropriate shipping section where it will be boxed, labeled and ready to ship.

At each shipping station, RFID is used to transfer tag data to the control PC. This instructs the automatic label printer to print on the corresponding box. The label contains information about the configuration of the PC, serial number and other information required for customer service. Final inspection is done at this point to compare the bill of materials to the actual computer. In case of any nonconformance, the computer is returned for corrective action.

The additional advantage that Dell experienced with implementing RFID was that there was no added expense involved in procuring any other devices. The only expense incurred was interfacing the RFID system to the main server for data collection. The interface converts serial data to Ethernet for faster communication.

Dell is convinced that RFID has improved its production efficiency and helps it retain its status as one of the best computer manufacturing companies.

"The earlier system architecture on the computer product lines had many improvements to be done. Hence, the automation of the new lines was preplanned carefully while choosing the RFID system. As specifications were finalized on our entire requirement, EMS was the RFID provider that fit perfectly. Our productivity targets have been easily met after this installation, and we are looking for other areas where RFID can bring us gains," says Mike McNamara, process engineer at Dell.

For more information on RFID systems, call 831-438-7000 or visit