July 11, 2019
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Century-old brewery taps new tracking technology

Century-old brewery taps new tracking technology

Change from RFID to RTLS brings cheer to warehouse leaders.

By DC Velocity Staff

Located about 90 miles south of Prague, the Czech Republic's Budweiser Budvar Brewery is serious about its cultural history. The company brewed its first batch of beer in 1895, following a brewing tradition that dates back to the 13th century in its hometown of Ceské Budejovice (Budweis). (Thanks to the German translation of that town's name—Budweiser—the brewery has been locked in a trademark dispute for decades with American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Co. LLC.)

A true old-school brewer, Budvar doesn't allow its beer to be brewed in other producers' facilities under license. Every bottle it sells is produced at a single site along the Vltava River.

That insistence on handling all of its brewing on site gives the company tight control over quality and ingredients. But it also creates a challenge in distributing its cans and bottles to 76 countries from a single production facility.

Stacks of thousands of totes outdoors
Budweiser Budvar Brewery in the Czech Republic stocks 360 product combinations at its single production site.

The complexities reach all the way back into the warehouse, which stocks 10 different kinds of beer, each of which is labeled in dozens of languages, adding up to 360 product combinations. The facility holds more than 20,000 pallets and supports shipments by more than 50 trucks per day.

Until recently, the brewer tracked its warehouse assets with passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags located at each pallet position—tags that were read by RFID antennas mounted on its forklifts' chassis. The system was intended to minimize human error in handling the hundreds of varieties of beer, but due to damage to antennas, harsh weather, and other factors, the network operated properly only 80 percent of the time.

In a bid to reduce maintenance costs associated with antenna damage, increase system uptime, and obtain additional insights into its logistics operations, the brewery decided to replace its RFID-based platform with a real-time location system (RTLS) based on ultra-wideband (UWB) technology.

MORE, BETTER DATA

Provided by Czech Republic-based RTLS vendor Sewio and implemented by ICZ Group, the new system uses antennas installed high above the actual traffic, helping boost the system's reliability to 99 percent uptime. The tags are now affixed to forklifts, rather than pallet positions, allowing for asset-tracking throughout the facility. Overall, the new network covers an area of 160,000 square feet, using 70 receivers to track assets with a high degree of accuracy.

Lift truck in warehouse
With its new tracking system, Budweiser Budvar is now able to get insights into the utilization of each forklift and better use space in its warehouse.

In addition to boosting uptime and accuracy, the new system has paved the way for process improvements. The brewer is now able to mine the data generated by the system for insights into the distance traveled and the utilization of each forklift, and to leverage "heatmaps" that allow leaders to visualize the traffic flow. By analyzing that data, the brewer says it has discovered ways to better utilize its current warehouse, virtually expanding it by 19 percent.

On top of that, Budvar has found that the total cost of ownership is much lower with the new system than with its predecessor. "While the initial cost for RFID versus UWB is almost identical, UWB undoubtedly outperforms RFID thanks to lower maintenance costs, lower risk of damage, and higher accessibility and scalability of the system," Pavel Pánek, head of logistics at Budweiser Budvar, said in a release.

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