RFID And The Ever-Changing Logistics Landscape
Radio-frequency identification, also known simply as RFID is a technology that was first conceptualized way back in 1948 and by 1966 it was being used in security checkpoints and other anti-theft devices that were being produced specifically for commercial interests and RFID became widespread.
These security devices became wildly popular and most self-respecting retail stores wouldn’t be caught without using these tags. They put them on the clothes on their racks, inside their electronic goods, and at RFID readers at all of their entries and exits.
Basically, RFID works by transferring data wirelessly between microchips that are within a certain range of one another.
Fast forward to 2018 and we are using RFID technology in everything from the microchip implanted in our pets to the chip on our credit card that allows us to make payments by simply tapping our card on a pad.
Furthermore, RFID systems have found a home in the logistics industry where it facilitates a variety of roles.
How RFID Systems Benefit Inventory And Shipment Tracking Efforts
Probably one of the most common uses for RFID is the tracking and organization of inventory as well as inbound and outbound shipments.
When it comes to tracking freight, RFID tags are usually affixed to shipping containers so that as the truck passes through RFID readers placed at checkpoints or other ports the reader communicates with the tag and documents the arrival or departure or the container.
In inventory efforts, RFID tags can eliminate a lot of the manual tracking and paperwork that is usually required if you want to keep track of all the stock in your warehouse by giving you the ability to perform inventory check-ins, picking times, and inventory counts in mere minutes. Traditionally, and manually, this same process could take half an hour or more to complete.
Additionally, you can also use RFID tags to keep track of where all of your goods are stocked. You can more easily document what shelf it is on and how many are left by simply placing the goods (with an RFID tag attached) on a shelf that has a reader attached to it. As soon as the goods come within the vicinity of the reader, it automatically logs it as being added to the inventory. The same applies in reverse as well.
This alone shaves a few minutes off the amount of time that it takes warehouse workers to log their actions and move on to the next task.
What’s Holding RFID Technology Back?
While RFID technology has been used for some time now and with great success, it still hasn’t grown in popularity as a viable option during a time in which the industry is seeing a massive rise in emerging technologies every few months.
There are a few reasons for this…
For starters, RFID tags can suffer greatly from interference with thick concrete or a lot of wiring. This isn’t a problem that is specific to RFID tech, as a matter of fact, wifi connections suffer the same downfall in some regards as do other radio waves. But RFID tags are very basic and since they rely on close proximity to a reader, a lot of things can stand in the way and block that signal. If you work in a warehouse that has thick pillars and abundant wiring, you are at even greater risk.
Secondly, RFID tech is not used across the board. What I mean by this is that in order to effectively track and record data on moving freight, everyone in the supply chain must also employ the use of RFID. If they don’t, your data tracking ends, at least with your tags, as soon as the freight moves to a third-party.
Finally, RFID tags and readers are not free, or even cheap by most standards. While you will be saving money in other ways by implementing this system even partly, it is going to cost quite a bit up front. This is even more so true if you are upgrading a warehouse that utilizes a manual system. You will have to remove the system in place, buy tags and readers, and retrain all of the warehouse staff on how to use their new tools.
RFID technology has been around long enough to prove itself useful in a number of applications and etched out a spot for itself within the logistics space. And it works flawlessly when it is set up and utilized properly.
When it isn’t, it can cripple an entire operation and severely limit the control you have over your data.
Yet, more and more logistics operations are adopting RFID by the day (2018 seen a boom in interest in RFID tech). As more operations employ it, the bigger the global network grows and becomes commonplace.
So what do you think? Is RFID here to stay? Is it growing or declining in use?
Only the future will tell.