You may already know how RFID* works, and how it benefits businesses through accurate, time-saving asset tracking. One surprising application is within the well-know bourbon distillery Wild Turkey, which adopted RFID to track its warehoused barrels of fine spirits. As reported in RFID Journal, the company formerly stamped each barrel with information about the barrel’s contents and the date the barrel entered the warehouse for aging. Keeping track of the whereabouts of each barrel was not just good business practice, it was mandated by government regulations. But maintaining a complete, accurate inventory required Wild Turkey’s warehouse crew to “eyeball” the information stamped on each of their 650,000 barrels – a time-consuming, labor-intensive and error-prone task.
Now, their RFID system starts tracking a new barrel at the time it’s manufactured, adding information to the barrel’s record when newly distilled bourbon is added to the barrel and when a warehouse location is assigned to start the aging process. Handheld RFID readers display the location and contents of every barrel in a warehouse, without the need for a warehouse staffer’s visual confirmation.
Regulatory compliance is now a simple matter of printing a report from the RFID software. Just as important, when a barrel has aged sufficiently and is ready for market, finding its location among its 650,000 neighbors is a snap. The fully-aged barrel is moved out of the warehouse, making room for a new barrel.
Even if you’re not operating a distillery, tracking the age of an asset is something that any business needs to do, particularly when the assets are documents. Like almost every enterprise, you probably have multiple file cabinets filled with documents. Many of those documents are long past their useful life, whether they were needed for operations or to fulfill regulatory requirements.
Add RFID tags to file folders, or even individual documents, and in the future any outdated documents can be identified easily, located quickly, and disposed of properly, whether disposal means scanning into a digital archive, or shredding securely. As you go forward, your files will contain only what’s required for current operations and record-keeping. And in the process, you’ll gain quite a bit of space formerly assigned to those old unnecessary documents – space that can be converted to more productive uses.
RFID pays you back in many ways: faster inventories, accurate asset records, and less storage space. An experienced RFID provider can show you how the benefits add up, and discuss a custom solution.
*(What is RFID? Find out here.)
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Everyone knows what a bar code is – we can’t forget the commercial showing bank customers with bar codes on their foreheads – but the workflow and inventory management benefits of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology aren’t as well known. Like bar codes, RFID tags contain information about the item they’re attached to. No doubt you have seen those large plastic tags clipped on apparel in retail stores, and seen them removed by cashiers at the time of purchase – those are RFID tags, and they help the store manage inventory. But RFID tags also come in much smaller versions, like the one pictured here, and they can be affixed to everything from shipping boxes to artworks, tools, furniture, weapons, and even office file folders or individual documents. They’re inconspicuous, easy to apply, and last for 50 years.
The technological difference between RFID and bar codes is this: Like books or newspapers, bar codes are printed in ink, and must be visually read by an electronic scanner. RFID tags, by contrast, are essentially tiny radio transmitters, bouncing a signal back to an RFID reader just the way your favorite radio station relays a signal to your car radio. The RFID signal contains unique identifying information about the item the tag is attached to.
On the surface, RFID may not seem to offer any advantages over bar codes. Nevertheless, Walmart, Macy’s, and other retailers turned to RFID for a very good reason: Labor costs. Their inventory management systems were based on bar codes, and the bar code scanner had to “see” the bar code. Because it couldn’t see around corners or through walls, every item in a stockroom or warehouse had to be manually turned toward the reader – a time-consuming labor-intensive process. And labor is expensive.
The radio signals of an RFID tag, however, can be “grabbed” by an RFID reader without the reader ever having to see the tag. As long as the reader is in proximity to the tag (same room or same building), it receives the information from the RFID tag via radio waves, without any need to handle the inventory. In effect, the RFID reader can see around corners, or through a stack of boxes, or into a filing cabinet. The labor of inventory management becomes as simple as walking into a room.
RFID is a game-changer for any organization that needs to keep track of inventory or assets:
- Facility managers know where every desk and chair is located without doing a room-to-room count.
- Automobile manufacturers streamline workflows by tracking parts as vehicles move through the assembly line.
- Museum curators are certain of which storeroom contains a particular collection, without having to open drawers or rummage through shelves.
- Warehouse managers know exactly what a new shipment contains without having to open the boxes.
- Paralegals locate critical documents in a law office without having to search through multiple files.
Bar code technology is far from obsolete, however. Bar codes are a proven solution for an array of situations in which labor costs are not such a big part of the inventory management calculus. But for many organizations, RFID offers productivity benefits that boost the bottom line.
As every manager and owner knows, inventory and asset management is vital to any successful enterprise. RFID will streamline your workflow and improve inventory accountability. Consult with an expert in inventory management and storage who can tell you if RFID or bar coding, or both, could be the right solution for your business.
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As any museum director will tell you, deaccessioning is not quite as simple as cleaning out one’s closets and holding a yard sale. Museums as a whole have a mission to acquire, conserve, and exhibit collections for the benefit of their communities. Reducing the number of artworks or artifacts seems almost antithetical. The decision to sell some of the objects in a museum’s collection is a complex one; condition, authenticity, redundancy, and donor restrictions are just a few of the factors in deciding to deaccess, particularly when an object is one that ought to remain available to the public.
The pressure to downsize can sometimes stem from the impossibility of exhibiting the full scope of a museum’s collections. Michael O’Hare, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that as much as 90% of major museums’ collections are languishing in storage, never included in an exhibit seen by the public. He argues that unseen artworks have no real value. “Aside from maybe someday appearing in a scholarly article… just how are these works creating cultural value if no one is looking at them?” O’Hare asks.
Everyone agrees that museums exist, in large part, to exhibit their art and artifacts, but exhibit space is at a premium. Exhibits require sufficient space for each object to be appreciated on its own, and the size of any exhibit is limited by the museum’s footprint. Adding to the spatial challenge is the amount of space required for a museum’s storage. Sometimes a large percentage of a museum’s total area has to be devoted to the safe and secure storage of its unique collections.
And that storage space might in fact be the place where additional exhibit space can be found. Well-designed high density storage systems can condense a storage footprint by as much as 80%. Compact shelving and racking systems eliminate fixed aisles and adjust to accommodate the wide variety of shapes and sizes of collected objects. By clawing back some inefficiently-used storage space, museums can find themselves with room to expand their exhibits.
With the ability to display more of their collections, museums are better able to fulfill their mission. Deaccessioning, as defined by the Association of Art Museum Directors, will always be part of managing a museum’s collection. But with efficiently-used storage space, more works can be retained and displayed for the education and enjoyment of the public.
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Nordstrom is adding to its retail technology with the acquisition of two mobile apps. One will give store associates the ability to send personalized product recommendations to consumers when they’re out of the store, as well as the potential for consumers to share information with each other and shop online as a group. The other app sends customers personalized text messages that allow them to purchase via the text message.
These apps are part of Nordstrom’s effort to build on its reputation for a personalized shopping experience, a corporate value that dates back to the retailer’s earliest years. Similar apps are likely to be adopted by other retailers wanting to strengthen their customer relationships.
Collectively, such retail-relationship apps will have an impact on inventory management. When customers respond to a shopping opportunity en masse, at the speed of technology, retailers must have sufficient stock on hand to meet demand. Otherwise they risk disappointing their customers and undermining the very same relationships they’re building with their shopping apps. Inventory technology, especially RFID, will be vital to fulfilling the demand created by these apps.
From automotive jobber to specialty boutique to major department store, retailers have been using RFID inventory management in some degree since the early 2000’s. RFID inventory systems allow retailers to balance the tension between two inventory principles: (1) keeping sufficient inventory on hand for current demand, and (2) maintaining excessive storage capacity as inventory and demand fluctuate.
Even with the advances in RFID inventory management, predicting future demand has always been an educated guess, putting retailers in a reactive position to market demands. But with the new retail-relationship apps, retailers can become more proactive. As customers react to store associates’ suggestions, retailers can aggregate the responses to predict demand and refine their JIT orders. If a product seems like a hot buy, retailers can stock up in readiness for demand. If a product doesn’t garner much buzz, retailers can avoid overstocking and the storage costs that come with it.
The next step for retail technology may be linking customer-outreach apps to inventory management technology, creating an end-to-end system that ensures sufficient stock without an oversupply of warehouse or in-store storage capacity. This means that retailers who are considering acquiring or expanding RFID technology should choose a future-proof system that can accommodate new technology developments as they come on line. Talk to your storage consultant to find out what RFID system is best for your enterprise.
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Irma, Harvey, Katrina, Sandy – these are names which remind us that natural disasters are devastating, not just for private citizens but for the businesses that serve those affected communities. Business continuity and disaster recovery are important considerations in any successful business, but our American “can-do” optimism can often lead us to overlook the need to plan for disaster. Any well-run business carries insurance, but beyond paying a premium, there are other ways to mitigate the effects of a natural disaster so you can carry on business afterwards.
Disaster recovery is most often associated with IT, but it also applies to facilities management, logistics, HR – every facet of a business. A disaster recovery plan is a subset of a business continuity plan, which is itself a proactive approach to maintaining smooth operations in the face of the unexpected – for example, having a backup generator in case of a sudden loss of power. Disaster recovery is reactive, taking action after the fact – i.e., switching on the generator when you lose power.
Your choice of storage system can have a significant impact on your business continuity and disaster recovery plan:
- Data and records storage – Can essential paper documents and backup drives be retrieved and moved to safety? Who will execute that task, and how?
- Inventory management – Are inventory records accurate, for insurance claims? Do you have an automated system that keeps inventory records up to date?
- Logistics – How is the supply chain likely to be affected? Do you have a space-efficient storage system that lets you increase capacity in the safe zone?
Texas supermarket chain H-E-B put their disaster recovery plan into immediate action in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. H-E-B president Scott McClelland, a veteran of Gulf Coast disasters, kept 70% of H-E-B’s stores open and stocked in the immediate aftermath of record floods. It was a remarkable achievement, but it was no accident that H-E-B was well prepared, as McClelland relates in an interview with LinkedIn’s Chip Cutter. H-E-B’s disaster recovery plan included the establishment of command centers in unaffected areas, and coordinating with suppliers to stockpile essential items prior to the storm.
H-E-B’s proactive approach to a catastrophic event let them keep their doors open to continue serving the community. Storing stockpiled inventory was part of that plan. When you’re considering your organization’s storage needs, it’s wise to include your own business continuity and disaster recovery plan in your storage system choices.
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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