Real-World Awareness with RFID (Part 1)

The task of the SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure component is to enable tracing and control of actual, physical processes in real time when mapping logistics processes in an IT system. To do so, SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure compares information on the expected transactions – those that handle a delivery in an ERP solution, for example – with the events that actually occur as reported by sensors. The actual transaction and the objects involved are confirmed. RFID is not a completely new technology, although it is just beginning to play a significant role in logistics. Implementing RFID involves various technical challenges, which is why most customers implement it in phases. Pilot projects should determine the benefits and enable you to gain experience.
The results of the first phase often help fulfill the requirements large-volume customers have of manufacturers. This case is particularly prevalent in the consumer goods industry where large retail chains require their principal suppliers to include RFID labels on pallets and packaging units. The goals of the preliminary phases should first be met with minimal effort, so manufacturers often postpone integrating their RFID software with their ERP solution. That’s why SAP offers an option to operate SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure independently for these kinds of slap-and-ship scenarios.

Why use SAP NetWeaver XI?

Over the long term, SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure will be integrated with ERP back ends in the vast majority of cases. Various technologies and structures for integration can be used to accomplish this. You must decide if you wish to implement integration based upon messages or upon a direct, point-to-point connection – as is still often the case between SAP solutions. Prime candidates for integration include SAP R/3, mySAP ERP, and SAP Event Management. But SAP also wishes to enable other SAP solutions and non-SAP systems to benefit from the services of SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure. In the future, additional SAP applications can be integrated out of the box, which will prohibit the use of point-to-point connections. You will need an integration broker, and SAP NetWeaver XI 3.0 is a component of the SAP NetWeaver platform.
With SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure (SAP NetWeaver XI) as an integration platform for the exchange of data between SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure and other applications, SAP has decided not only on hub architecture with easier maintenance, but also for openness to other applications. SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure communicates with SAP NetWeaver XI over HTTP(S) with SOAP XML messages. SAP R/3, mySAP ERP, and SAP Event Management from mySAP Supply Chain Management (mySAP SCM) use IDocs from SAP NetWeaver XI to communicate with SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure. SAP NetWeaver XI also offers an option to use additional data formats to exchange data. Adapters are used for conversion. SAP NetWeaver XI already contains some adapters for standard formats. File or FTP adapters and database adapters (JDBC) are also available. In this manner, using SAP NetWeaver XI 3.0 guarantees that both SAP and non-SAP solutions can be integrated with a minimal amount of effort.

Design and Configuration Periods

The definition of data exchange depends to some extent upon the concrete implementation of the application landscape, including the technical addresses of the systems. You can define independent information as soon as you know the type of systems along with their incoming and outgoing message formats. That’s why SAP NetWeaver XI distinguishes between a design period and a configuration period. During the design period, interface structures and mappings for data exchange between the applications and SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure are defined. During the configuration period, these settings might have to be supplemented with the addresses and names of the solutions.
If the type and version of the applications to be linked are already known and the software comes from a supplier, the supplier can make settings during the design period and save you the work of making the settings later on. That’s the case when a SAP R/3 or mySAP ERP back end is linked with SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure. SAP delivers the appropriate settings for the standard function, RFID-enabled outbound processing, as content for SAP NetWeaver XI. The same holds true for linking supply chain event management (SCEM) data from mySAP Supply Chain Management with SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure.

The integration repository in SAP NetWeaver XI contains information on the content. During the configuration period, settings are made in the integration directory with the assistance of information from the integration repository. SAP NetWeaver XI 3.0 (as of service pack 3) provides a software assistant for this purpose. It greatly simplifies configuration and starts with the definition of a scenario in the integration repository delivered with the content for SAP NetWeaver XI. If you want to integrate an external system for which no content exists in SAP NetWeaver XI, you can define your own interface descriptions and mapping rules in the information repository to determine the path that a data transport should take and how conversion should appear. A variety of formats are available to import the interface descriptions, including RFC, IDoc, WSDL, DTD, or XSD.
The integration builder tool is used to maintain entries in the integration repository and in the integration directory. The system landscape directory contains information on the software products presents and the description of the installed system landscape. SAP NetWeaver XI uses this information.

RFID integration with loose coupling

SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure is linked to solutions with RFID functionality only loosely. Communication occurs asynchronously and exclusively with messages. Compared with solutions that build RDID-reading functions into ERP back ends or that independently communicate synchronously with ERP solutions or other applications, loose coupling offers a significant advantage. This approach means that you can use RFID functionality in a separate installation of SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure when back-end solutions or a transmission channel to the back end are temporarily unavailable.
SAP NetWeaver XI ensures that messages are neither lost nor duplicated because of transmission difficulties or the temporary unavailability of a communications partner. Special functions monitor forwarded messages. If the recipient is unavailable, the message remains stored in an outgoing queue. The solution automatically continues to try to deliver the message. The administrator can also trigger manual transmission of a message once the problem in the receiving system has been corrected.

Uwe Schäfer