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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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.
Photo © peerayot/ AdobeStock
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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Square footage is ever more precious as our urban areas grow ever more crowded. Cities with naturally occuring geographical restrictions – San Francisco, Hong Kong, New York (Manhattan) – learned long ago that when you can’t go out, you have to go up. Land is too valuable to devote to the single-level use of green space, and except for a few famous parks, the concrete canyons of the world’s major cities are almost completely lacking in greenery. That is, unless Spanish biologist/designer Ignacio Solano has been at work.
From childhood, Solano studied the symbiotic relationships among plants, fungi, and bacteria. In 2007 he developed a successful method of gardening vertically using the natural interdependence of the botanical ecosystem. Patented in 2010, Solano’s vertical gardens were immediately commissioned by forward-thinking architects in Europe and South America. One of his most notable installations covers the surface of a high-rise building in Bogota, Columbia, as seen in this photo. A model of efficiency and automation, the garden utilizes grey water from the apartments combined with a system of sensors that monitor moisture, and distribute and recycle water.
Crowded urban spaces aren’t the only beneficiaries of a vertical solution. Businesses, too, can expand into unused overhead space within their offices or warehouses by installing a vertical storage system. These ingenious automated carousel systems increase storage capacity while conserving expensive floor space. And because there are no ladders or manual overhead lifting, a vertical carousel system actually improves employee safety. All these features add up to significant savings.
By utilizing the space overhead, you’re really decreasing another kind of overhead – the kind that contributes to your bottom line. Get in touch with a storage consultant to see if vertical is the direction your business should be looking.
Photo © Vita Vilcina