Supply chain disruptions continue to make manufacturing and distributing products a challenge with organizations in both private and public sectors struggling to accurately track and efficiently manage the movement of products and assets. These challenges are compelling shipping, warehousing and logistics firms to search for new ways to increase efficiencies through technology, such as using Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) solutions to accelerate processes with smaller workforces, while improving the accuracy of asset tracking.
A recent market research report predicts the use of UHF RFID will be the largest share of the overall RFID market this year. The UHF tags’ long read range capability and low cost make it an attractive enabling solution for asset accountability, supply chain management and even vehicle tracking. Evolving technology allows these tags to be scanned from as far as 60 feet away and multiple tags can be registered in a single scan of an area, significantly improving the speed and accuracy of asset tracking.
Let’s take a look at four areas that UHF RFID with the supply chain can be particularly effective: acquisitions, warehouse management, shipping and transportation and equipment maintenance. In these and other areas, this technology eliminates manual approaches, while empowering employees to achieve more with fewer resources.
Acquisition, which occurs when a product or piece of equipment is initially received, is one of the first stages in which organizations can use UHF RFID’s automated data capture and data transfer features. Traditionally, the in-check process involved manual methods of noting the receipt of items and their identifiers, then reconciling them with what the shipper promised. Each individual item within a box, pallet or container would need to be counted and marked received, which is a time-consuming process.
UHF RFID transforms this to an automated process. Once a vendor fills an order, they can send customers an advanced shipment notification specifying the inbound items. Acquisition personnel can pre-lodge this information in their database systems for inventory. When shipments arrive, acquisitions can quickly deploy UHF RFID to automate the in-check receipt process by scanning the items and comparing this information to that in their systems. In circumstances where a sealed consolidated shipment is routed through intermediate distribution points, UHF RFID tags support automated item capture for RFID tagged items in the shipment. This is especially critical when packaging remains sealed during transit. When performed at scale, this method drastically accelerates the time acquisition reconciliation takes and increases its accuracy.
There are many ways UHF RFID can improve warehouse management. A best practice for this use case is to mount UHF RFID scanners in fixed locations, such as a warehouse entrance and exit points. Items are then automatically registered and tracked when brought onto or removed from the premises. For the latter, personnel might not know who removed an item, but they’ll have a date and time stamp indicating when it was removed, which is useful for determining who was present at the time or issuing alerts.
Mobile UHF RFID readers enable inventory counts periodically to ensure the items registered in database systems are present. The mobile readers in combination with the long-range scanning capabilities (up to 60 feet), allow users to instantly scan entire areas of a warehouse to expedite reconciliation and pinpoint any potential gaps. When disparity exists between inventory items scanned versus database accountability, mobile UHF RFID readers can be employed to scan the warehouse and locate misplaced or lost items.
Shipping and Transportation
Similar to how UHF RFID can automate the acquisition process, mobile UHF RFID devices can be used to scan items being packaged for shipments and automate the process in building a material shipment manifest while loading a pallet, for example. Using UHF RFID tags and readers allows intermediate or destination sites to scan and track consolidated item shipments without wasting time on manual checks. The UHF RFID tag with a secondary memory bank allows the RFID tag to contain pedigree details about the item; scanning those tags to aggregate item details, facilitates automated actions to create a material manifest for shipment.
The use of UHF RFID technology applications also accelerates the process at intermediate stops to effectively dispense items when they reach distribution points. Often, the shipping and distribution process involves opening containers or pallets, removing items, packing items into smaller amounts and re-routing them to specific warehouses in respective locations. Retail shippers, for instance, can use UHF RFID systems to immediately determine the location of particular items during the intermediate shipment process. This capability enables timely updates for customers, lets shippers dynamically understand when a logistics problem arises and provides sufficient time to adjust, if necessary.
The maintenance efficiencies gained from UHF RFID enabled solutions can significantly minimize the downtime of capability assets such as aircraft, ships, trains, trucks, and other vehicles. If a commercial airline maintenance worker can’t find a specific tool to service an aircraft, for example, that aircraft remains grounded. UHF RFID can redress this and similar situations by quickly scanning the grounds to locate the missing tool and continue with the maintenance service.
In situations where a specific item or tool needs to be located and UHF RFID real-time location system infrastructure is in place, users can locate the target item/tool by tracking its GPS location to find it. This technology enabled capabilities are pivotal for governmental entities like the Department of Defense, for whom downtime simply isn’t acceptable. By arming personnel with these evolving technologies where conditions support it, UHF RFID significantly improves efficiencies in maintenance environments.
UHF RFID systems are being deployed in a variety of verticals, from the private to the public sector. This technology can greatly reduce the time, energy and manpower required to optimize supply chain, logistics and asset management tasks, while accelerating acquisition, accountability and distribution of parts or finished goods. In addition, it can be used to track the tools used to maintain equipment assets for decreased downtime.
UHF RFID technology alone will not solve all the challenges we face today in supply chain management; however, the efficiency advantages that organizations gain through technology injection can certainly play a key role in resolving today’s supply chain management challenges.