RFID began as an inventory management tool, but now it interfaces with every part of an organization. Today there’s an RFID application that will make your operations more efficient, more productive, and more profitable, no matter what your business is.
RFID’s digital records replaced pen-and-paper recordkeeping. As Jeff Schmitz writes in Forbes, RFID began by tracking the location and number of tangible items in a company’s inventory. Its speedy information delivery gave businesses a greater degree of agility in managing the flow of goods.
Then operations managers began to realize that RFID could transform from an inventory monitor to an enterprise-wide information system. An RFID-based “enterprise intelligence” system provides real-time or near-real-time updates on:
- Levels of supplies
- Work in progress
- Staff location
- Equipment condition
In addition to inventory reports, of course.
RFID is even integrated into automated manufacturing, connecting manufacturing execution systems (MES) to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and the production floor.
But RFID doesn’t stop with manufacturing and warehousing. Service industries too are benefiting from the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of an RFID intelligence system. Just a few of the service sectors making use of RFID:
- Transportation, Logistics and Postal Services– Have you received a notification of a package delivery or updates on a shipment? These service companies use an RFID-to-customer-order interface to keep recipients informed.
- Law Firms and Libraries– RFID doorway readers monitor the movements of paper documents embedded or tagged with RFID. One-of-a-kind documents are no longer at risk of being lost or misplaced.
- Healthcare– Medical equipment, medications, and staff can be located without delay,
- IT– Equipment in system control rooms and server vaults is tracked to eliminate loss or theft. Company-owned electronic devices (tablets, laptops) assigned to staff are tracked throughout company facilities, and as they leave and return to the building.
The bottom line: Practically every type of business has a need for RFID in many parts of its operations. But as Schmitz points out, “There is no such thing as a standard implementation strategy for RFID, and there is no single ‘best’ RFID solution for all organizations — or even for a particular industry.” An experienced RFID integrator can develop a custom solution for your unique business, and you can begin accruing the benefits of expanded digitalization.
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Asset management system RFID (radio frequency identification) keeps expanding its usefulness. Well established for inventory management, RFID is proving itself to be adaptable for an array of other applications, including document management, process supply management, healthcare equipment and personnel tracking, enterprise resource planning, and physical asset management.
Even workplace social distancing is now being supported by RFID wearable technology. Wristbands or badges equipped with RFID sensors warn wearers when they are standing too close to one another.
Now Cellr, an inventive Australian startup, is creating an RFID-based system that will prevent intellectual-property fraud in the wine industry. Like any brand identification, wine labels are considered intellectual property. Consumers expect that the wine is exactly what the label states. However, it’s all too easy for fraudsters to print counterfeit labels and apply them to bottles of inferior wine, essentially stealing the winery’s intellectual property and damaging its brand. Wine fraud is estimated to cost the industry some $7 billion annually.
The new fraud-prevention system utilizes NFC (near-field-communication) and RFID tags embedded in corks at the winery – a kind of “digital birth certificate.” Buyers use a cell phone app to check the provenance of the wine, verifying that the wine inside the bottle matches the label on the outside. (Marketers, take note: As an extra bonus, the combined NFC/RFID tags allow wineries to deliver promotional messages to buyers.)
And of course the RFID-tagged corks simplify wineries’ and retailers’ inventory management, just like RFID inventory systems in other industries.
It’s easy to see how this fraud-prevention technique can extend into other areas. Works of art with embedded RFID can be easily identified as the one-and-only original. Legal documents become tamper-proof if they are printed on paper with embedded RFID fibers. Designer apparel and accessories with embedded RFID tags can be quickly authenticated.
With RFID, questionable provenance is no longer an issue. The chain-of-custody is unbroken. Supply chain reliability improves. Brand trust is reinforced. Manufacturers and retailers are confident that brand integrity is protected, and consumers are confident that they’re getting what they pay for.
Deterring fraud is just one of the numerous applications of RFID. If your business has assets (and what business doesn’t?) there’s an RFID application that fits your asset management needs.
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“Porch pirates” don’t confine their larcenous activities to the holiday season, and the cost of replacing stolen packages is a growing part of inventory shrinkage for U.S. businesses. While there are no reported statistics for the cost of package theft, insurance companies and shippers alike are finding that their costs for replacement of stolen packages are increasing each year, as online shopping becomes a way of life for American consumers. The impact of package theft is felt by everyone in the supply chain, from manufacturer to consumer.
One of the least quantifiable effects of package theft is its impact on a brand. It takes a high degree of trust for a shopper to pay for a product without receiving it immediately. As noted by brand consultant Shep Hyken in Forbes Magazine, consumers blame the seller for a missing delivery even though the seller is not at fault. The aftermath of insurance claims and waiting for replacement only adds to the negative experience associated with the brand, making consumers less likely to buy from that seller again. The loss of customer loyalty, and the subsequent loss of future sales to those customers, drives the cost of package theft even higher.
Technology has an answer: smart lockers. Carriers notify the shipper’s server when a delivery is made to a smart locker, and the shipper automatically sends an alert to the recipient, including information about accessing the locker with a one-time code.
Fulfillment leader Amazon took on the “last mile” of the delivery system a few years ago when they began installing centralized secure lockers where consumers could retrieve packages near their homes, instead of having their packages dropped off at their front doors. Recently Amazon announced The Hub, a similar system for apartment residents. Uniquely, The Hub will accept deliveries from any shipper, not just Amazon.
By continuously improving the customer experience with better-secured deliveries, smart lockers are letting Amazon build on its reputation for trustworthiness. It’s a technology that other businesses can put into place with equal effect, wherever there’s a need for secure deliveries – retail, hospitality, universities, multi-family residences. Smart lockers underscore a brand’s customer-centric focus, which in turn builds brand loyalty. Smart lockers are a smart investment that pay you back in improved risk management and positive brand perception. Everyone wins (except the porch pirates).
Concerns about safety and legalities are restricting the use of drones everywhere, except in one rather surprising place: the great indoors of mega-warehouses.
It’s completely legal to fly drones inside a private space, and logistics experts are putting drones to use inside large warehouses to automate certain tasks. Warehouses are finite spaces, and they can be mapped into drones’ programming for highly accurate flights. With the added ability to read RFID tags, drones can perform the mundane labor-intensive “cycle counting” that maintains an accurate inventory.
Walmart, one of the nation’s largest warehousers, has instituted a pilot program (no pun intended) to automate inventory management with drones. They estimate that a drone will be able to accurately check as much inventory in one day as a human employee can in a month – an impressive improvement in efficiency and effectiveness. And there’s the added factor of personnel safety: warehouse employees don’t have to climb ladders or operate lifts to count inventory.
Indoor drone usage isn’t right for every warehouse and every logistics manager. Ceiling height, interior walls, and racking systems all must be considered before moving to drone automation. And drones themselves are not cheap, particularly when spatial programming and RFID readers enter the equation. But for some businesses, it could be well worth the investment. Consult with a storage professional to see if drones are right for your warehouse operations.
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Drones, 3D printing – the past few years have seen innovations that could prove highly disruptive to the traditional supply chain. Lora Cecere, CEO of Supply Chain Insights, serves up her predictions for the 2030 supply chain in this post. The highlights include:
- Autonomous Supply Chain. Sensors, robotics, and GPS combined into an adaptive, cognitive system that automates manufacturing and warehouse management, and reduces heavy machinery downtime through sensors and connectivity.
- Safe and Secure Supply Chain. An automated chain of custody will reduce spoilage, secure hazardous shipments, and guard against fakery in everything from purses to pharmaceuticals.
- 3D Printing. Everything from spare parts to medical devices will be individualized and printed as needed.
- Learning Systems and Network of Networks. Manufacturers, shippers, and consumers will know where any customized order is in the process, at any time, in any place, thanks to supply chain systems that learn cognitively, and a network that talks to all other networks.
What do these changes mean for your business? Is your business ready for this brave new world? And where do storage systems fit into the big picture?
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Warehouses aren’t in the business of manufacturing, so it might seem irrelevant to apply the precepts of Lean Manufacturing to the logistics industry. However, says author Jeff Maree, there are surprising bottom-line advantages to managing a “lean warehouse.”
Lean manufacturing seeks to reduce errors, improve efficiency, and add value – the famous Japanese principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement. Maree, writing in Manufacturing Transformation, outlines five ways to apply the same principle in warehouse management.
- Technology – Barcoding, RFID, AS/RS, and other such systems reduce errors and improve efficient flow.
- Touch – Well-planned and implemented technology reduces the number of times an item is touched. Fewer touches means lower costs.
- Racks – The right storage solution will dovetail with the right technology solution to maximize space utilization, reducing real estate costs.
- Just in time – Tracking inflow and outflow over time lets lean warehouses maintain inventory at just-in-time levels, to keep storage use optimal.
- Partners – From software suppliers to storage providers, the right professional partners will support the lean warehouse in its goal of continuous improvement.
Manufacturers are reaping the financial benefits of lean-manufacturing productivity. Shouldn’t warehouse managers enjoy the same kinds of gains?
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