One of the fastest-growing technologies in today's warehouse is radio frequency identification (RFID), and if you follow developments in the warehousing and distribution industry, you've probably heard some discussion about RFID and its potential over the years.
However, until recently, RFID was more about potential than a practical reality because high costs got in the way of adopting this technology more widely.
That has changed dramatically since RFID made its big debut about a decade ago. Increases in RFID adoption as well as advances in related technology have made it a much more affordable and cost-effective option for warehouses looking to better automate their inventory management and workflows.
In this article, we'll take a look at how RFID is now revolutionizing how warehouses track parts, materials, finished goods, and shipments as they move through their processes. And we'll explore how RFID's potential to improve inventory control, reduce errors and inaccuracies, and minimize labor costs have become reality.
The Big Advantages of RFID
Many warehouses are now using RFID as a replacement for, or as a complement to, barcode-driven processes. And there are several big reasons why.
First, unlike barcodes, which require line-of-sight and close proximity to a barcode label to scan items, RFID tags and labels allow items to be scanned and located remotely, even if you can't immediately see an item or its tag or label.
RFID tags or labels are encoded with unique identifiers and are equipped with a tiny wireless radio transmitter. The transmitter communicates with RFID readers, which are either handheld or fixed devices that send signals to the tag or label and even power their transmitters by sending energy waves.
Instead of having to manually scan barcodes, workers can use a handheld RFID reader, such as a Zebra MC3330xR RFID handheld reader, and read multiple tags simultaneously from up to 30 feet away. This means they can scan an entire case or pallet of goods in a few seconds, and they'll not only be able to identify the items and their quantities, but they'll also know their location to within a few feet.
For applications where it makes sense to completely automate the process, you can use Zebra fixed RFID readers and antennas placed in strategic locations, such as above doorways or overhead in warehouse aisles, to automatically read RFID tags or labels as they pass the reader. This approach is usually more expensive up-front due to the technologies involved, but it can completely eliminate the need for human labor in inventory tracking, and it can track items as they move from location to location and from stage to stage in a process.
Better Inventory Control
Another big advantage of RFID is that it's a great technology for improving inventory control. By being able to capture inventory data and locations automatically and accurately, without the potential human errors involved in barcode scanning, the RFID Lab at Auburn University has found that RFID raises SKU-level inventory accuracy from an average of 63 to 95 percent.
At any time, with RFID you can know exactly what products or materials are in stock and how many you need to maintain and replenish. And it all happens in a fraction of the time it takes to capture inventory data through barcode scanning.
Better Inventory Accuracy
Barcode-based inventory management relies heavily on workers never making mistakes. But mistakes can and do happen, and if workers miss or forget a scan, or they happen to scan the wrong barcode or item, you can easily end up with inaccuracies.
RFID helps prevent this by virtually eliminating human error. Each tag contains a unique ID that is read and matched to a database with an automated process, so there's no chance of a mismatch or a routine mistake.
RFID tags can also store more data and more types of information than barcodes, so you can potentially track more information and gain greater insights into each item without manual data entry.
Reduced Labor Costs
In numerous controlled studies and implementations around the world, RFID has delivered huge benefits in operational efficiency and performance. For example, studies have shown that inventory cycle count times are reduced by 96 percent, with staff able to count as many as 20,000 items per hour. Studies have also shown that receiving time improves by 90 percent when using RFID, while picking and shipping accuracy improves by 80 percent.
What would those kinds of cost and time savings mean for your warehouse? And what would that level of automation and accuracy potentially do for you and your customers?
It's certainly inspiring to think about, and it comes at exactly the right time for many warehouses that are looking for every advantage they can get in today's on-demand economy.
If your warehouse is looking for an edge in efficiency, automation and cost, we definitely recommend that you explore this exciting technology for your business.
And it's relatively easy to get started. You can reach out to our RFID experts at Liberty Systems to learn more about RFID, how it works, whether it's a fit for your warehouse environment, and how to deploy an RFID system with the right solutions.
Contact us now and we'd be happy to help.