Nothing is more disappointing than opening the ice cream carton in your freezer, and discovering that someone else in your household has left you only half a teaspoon of partially-melted soupiness in the bottom of the carton. Maybe Elsa in “Frozen” could let it go, but you can’t. The only cold things in your kitchen are your thoughts regarding the person who deprived you of the sweet joy of ice cream.
Now, thanks to a combination of RFID and robotics, you will soon have a constant supply of ice cream at your command. Technology company Robomart is deploying mobile ice cream shops – refrigerated vans paired with RFID and a smart phone app. Ice cream cravers use the app to hail the nearest mobile store, which then comes rolling up to the shopper’s door, filled with frozen treats.
Each ice cream carton has an RFID tag affixed to it. After a buyer makes their selections, the van’s doors close and an RFID reader automatically inventories the remaining containers. The buyer is billed for the products that were removed, and restocking locations are alerted that the supply of rocky road caramel swirl is running low. Purchasing statistics provide data to predictive inventory systems, to make sure a neighborhood’s favorite flavors are well-stocked.
This is just one of the innovative ways RFID has been changing the supply chain. From manufacturers all the way to consumers, RFID improves productivity and profits.
Reducing waste – RFID keeps a close eye on manufacturing inventory to ensure a constant materials supply. No time is wasted with stock-outs, and no perishable products are held beyond their use-by dates.
Reducing shrinkage – RFID tracks individual items from factory to warehouse, to distribution, to retail, to consumer. Losses in any part of the chain are traceable.
Reducing customer disappointment – RFID delivers timely updates to ensure that supply meets demand, at any point in the supply chain. And if there’s a supply disruption, you know about it before it becomes a crisis.
With the current stresses on the supply chain, RFID keeps your business ahead of any bad news. You have an opportunity to proactively update your customers with any upcoming supply problems. They can adjust their operations before their productivity is affected, and their gratitude becomes your next big sale.
Imagine if the person who ate your ice cream had updated you on the personal ice cream inventory prior to the supply crisis. You might have been grateful for the heads-up, and instead of feeling cold-hearted, you would have opened that mobile ice cream store app and ordered for both of you. Customer relations and family relations are everything, and RFID is here to help.
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Manufacturing information systems (MISys), like all business information systems, deliver a wealth of data. Increasingly, RFID provides a significant amount of that data by interfacing with MISys processes.
It is said that information is power. “Information is power only if you can take action with it,” responds futurist Daniel Burrus. RFID enhances MISys data in these five essential ways, to make sense of the mass of information, and make the data actionable.
- Timeliness – data must be delivered quickly enough to make a decision on, and act on. RFID delivers data in real time.
- Presentation – data must be presented understandably, in a way that helps decision-making. RFID data is easy to read, and easy to export to other text-based or numerical-based reporting apps.
- Accuracy – inaccurate data isn’t just useless for decision-making, it’s downright dangerous. RFID data is more accurate than any other form of inventory tracking data.
- Context – data needs context in order to have meaning. RFID data gives context with what-where-identity-quantity information.
- Expectation – expected data confirms prior decisions; unexpected data short-circuits errors today and tomorrow. RFID data gives decision-makers feedback on a course of action, whether it reinforces an action or exposes a need for change.
RFID contributes actionable data in every stage of manufacturing, from materials procurement through product delivery:
- Provenance – track the source and whereabouts of components and raw materials.
- Production – measure quantities, build projections, forecast delays, and discover efficiencies.
- Testing – pull substandard product using unique RFID identifiers, before shipping defective items.
- Security – prevent unauthorized access and shrinkage.
RFID transforms manufacturing. It supports existing MISys data. It provides its own new, additional data. It makes information truly valuable. Can your manufacturing operations benefit from RFID? Talk to an RFID consultant to find out how.
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We’ve all been told about the benefits of RFID – accurate data, collected and delivered at electronic speed, for real-time decision-making. But does it really make a difference in our day-to-day work lives?
Let’s take a look at two imaginary individuals leading parallel lives. RFID Ray and Non-RFID Ned are operations managers at companies that manufacture, let’s say, turbo-charged self-navigating riding mowers.
- They both get up at 6:30 a.m. and get ready for work. Ray can’t find his keys, but an RFID app on his cell phone quickly locates them. He leaves home in time to miss the worst of the morning traffic.
- Ned, too, has misplaced his keys. He loses 10 minutes looking for them, then he loses another 15 minutes in heavy traffic.
- Ray arrives in the office a few minutes early. He enjoys a cup of coffee and catches up with a colleague, then he opens the RFID-controlled materials inventory on his computer. He sees that the supply of a critical part (we’ll call it a widget) is dangerously low; bad weather has delayed a supplier’s delivery. Ray places a call to another supplier, whose RFID inventory system says he has a 5-day supply in stock. Ray says, “I’ll take them all.”
- When Ned finally arrives at the office 25 minutes late, there’s no time for coffee and team-building chitchat. Like Ray, Ned checks his materials inventory report. It’s a paper document showing a manual count of parts. It took two precious work days to do the inventory nearly a month ago. The report shows that he has plenty of widgets to continue operations for another week. Suddenly the line supervisor rushes in to Ned’s office. “Boss, we’re nearly out of widgets, and the bad weather had delayed the shipment we expected. We’ll have to shut the line down tomorrow if we don’t get more.” Ned gets on the phone to the other nearby supplier, who gives Ned the bad news that Ray bought the last widgets an hour ago.
- Back at Ray’s office, the accountant asks Ray if he has the hard copy of a customer’s purchasing contract. It’s not on Ray’s desk. He checks the RFID document-tracking system, and it shows the contract is on the CFO’s desk. The accountant heads to the CFO’s office and locates the missing document.
- Ned, meanwhile, cannot find the purchasing document the accountant needs. He has no idea where it has gone or who took it off his desk. He stops trying to find a widget supplier and starts looking for the document. After 20 minutes, he locates it in the CFO’s office, then he gets back to widget-hunting.
- When Ray comes back from lunch, he gets a call from a parts manufacturer. The manufacturer’s RFID tracking system shows that a crate of defective jackson rods was sent to Ray. Ray checks his own RFID system and sees that some of the defective parts have just entered the assembly line. He contacts the line supervisor to tell him where the defective parts are on the line; the supervisor removes them. Ray then sends a message to his warehouse: Query the RFID system for the location of the crate of defective parts, and prepare it for return to the manufacturer. Total time required – 5 minutes.
- Ned has no time for lunch. He’s still searching for widgets. Late in the day, his QC manager tells him that some of the finished riding mowers failed QC due to defective jackson rods. Ned shuts down the line while the crew pulls the defective parts. The warehouse manager walks up and down the shelving aisles looking for the crate of defective parts. “I know it was here somewhere,” he says. Ned complains bitterly to the jackson rod manufacturer. Total time required – 4 hours.
- Ray leaves work right on time, his RFID badge recording his exit from the building. He works out at the gym, has a quick bite, and goes to his daughter’s school play. She’s the star of his life.
- Ned gives up the search for widgets and reluctantly lets his boss know the line won’t be operating tomorrow. Ned’s crew is still pulling the defective jackson rods off the line. The crew is being paid overtime, so they don’t mind too much, except the ones whose children are in the school play. Ned, exhausted, tries to sign out on the security log book. His pen runs out of ink. When he gets to his car, he can’t find his keys.
- Just about the same time, Ray is applauding his daughter with a standing ovation.
The story is hypothetical, but the RFID technology is quite real: There is an RFID application for almost every aspect of your work life, and many for your personal life. Whether it’s the time needed to make a well-informed` decision, time to locate something essential, or time to focus on family and self, the most valuable thing RFID gives you is time.
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Shortages and hoarding were two of the many unwelcome side effects of the pandemic. Remember the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020? A similar effect was felt in many business sectors. Manufacturers experienced shortages of parts or materials. Hospitals ran short of PPE and other supplies. Out-of-stocks cost retailers billions in a year.
Businesses responded to shortages by overstocking inventory. But overstocking is costly. Buying excess inventory is expensive; storing the excess adds additional costs. And if demand suddenly drops, your business is left holding the bag.
The just in time (JIT) production and distribution chain has been the enterprise holy grail for more than 3 decades. It only works if every segment of the supply chain communicates with every other segment in a timely manner. Any lapse or slow-down of communication means potential or actual shortages, with a ripple effect that is felt all up and down the line. Time is indeed of the essence.
And timely communication is where RFID shines. Not only does it track your inventory coming in the door, it tracks it as it leaves. And it communicates that information to your ERP system, in real time. At any given moment, managers can know exactly what they have on hand, and they can re-order at the right time to avoid a shortage, or an excess.
Moreover, this close monitoring of inventory doesn’t add to labor costs. Door-mounted RFID readers collect information automatically as inventory moves in and out. There’s no need to wait for a manual check-out, or even slow down for a bar code reader. RFID wins the inventory race every time, as this video shows.
Fast, accurate tracking of inventory is the key to keeping the supply chain moving smoothly and profitably. The data collected from RFID lets businesses confidently predict supply and demand throughout the supply chain. RFID is your ally in the battle for profitability.
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RFID is an outstanding asset management tool. It tracks inventories, it tracks supplies, it tracks components during manufacturing, it tracks finished products all the way to the consumer’s hands. And it does all this tracking speedily, with complete accuracy.
But RFID isn’t just about the movement and storage of physical objects. It can help keep workers safe in dangerous situations.
Some workers’ jobs are inherently unsafe just by the nature of the work – first responders, for example. Other work settings may be safe ordinarily, but can experience life-threatening accidents or natural disasters. RFID offers a way to improve safety on the job or in the aftermath of a catastrophe.
ROUTING AND POSITIONING
The pandemic taught managers the importance of maintaining workers’ social distance as well as contact tracing. A tool kit of RFID wearables and badges monitors staff’s movements, making contract tracing simple. Fertilizer manufacturer Nutrien, for instance, uses RFID wearables to maintain social distance during crew changeovers, as workers pass in and out of gates.
Additionally, RFID wearables let managers collect data on workers’ on-the-job movement patterns. Analyzing this data reveals more productive task positions and operational routes. Wasted trips are reduced, and unsafe routes are eliminated.
In emergency situations, it’s vital to know where all your employees are. RFID delivers this information in real time. In a multiple-alarm fire, fire chiefs track their firefighters’ whereabouts via RFID wearables, and direct assistance where it’s needed. In the oil and gas industry, RFID badges let managers account for all their employees in the event of a volatile chemical accident.
Employee health and safety pays off in so many ways. You retain skilled, productive personnel. Your liability is reduced. Your insurance rates don’t suffer.
A safe workplace is good for your brand. And it’s good for you, personally. Alternative Energy Development Group’s Chris Fraga said, “The most important asset of our business is our team and their families, the very essence of life.” Don’t leave this vital asset out of your RFID asset management system. An investment in RFID technology is an investment in a safe workplace, and in your organization’s future.
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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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