Companies across every industry are looking for ways to boost capacity, throughput, and quality. But the challenge is how to do that without adding headcount or increasing bottom-line costs.
This is one of the key reasons why so many companies are now investing in radio frequency identification (RFID), which is helping them accelerate productivity, efficiency, and quality while slashing labor requirements and costs.
The big key to this is the fact that RFID can automatically and wirelessly identify, locate, track, and trace inventory, assets, components, finished goods, and shipments. This means it offers huge advantages over manual, barcode-based, and paper-based data capture, tracking and process management.
As a result, you can use RFID to automate, optimize, and save labor and cost in a wide array of applications, workflows, and supply chain operations.
In this quick article, we’ll explore seven ways that companies in different industries are using RFID to make huge gains in efficiency, productivity, supply chain visibility, and quality control. And we’ll start by reviewing the key advantages that RFID offers, and why this technology is taking over the world in a hurry.
Key Advantages of RFID
RFID Doesn’t Need Line-of-Sight
When you use RFID to tag and track your inventory, components, finished goods, shipments or other assets, you don’t need line-of-sight access to a barcode label. RFID tags are read, identified, and located wirelessly and remotely, using radio waves and tiny microtransmitters embedded in each tag or label. RFID tags are read anytime they’re within range of an RFID reader, so they can be read even when they’re hidden within a pallet or package.
RFID Is Much Faster
RFID systems can capture data from hundreds of tags, all at once, so you can identify, quantify and locate thousands of items in minutes. With fixed-position RFID readers placed at dock doors, in warehouse aisles, on production lines, or at other key checkpoints, you can create an entirely automated system that saves even more time and effort.
RFID Doesn’t Just Identify Items. It Locates Them
RFID doesn’t just identify and quantify items: it locates them to within an accuracy of a few feet, using RFID readers and antennas. This adds an entirely new dimension to tracking, traceability and visibility, allowing you to instantly know the current or last-known location of virtually anything that’s moving through your supply chain or is current at rest.
How Companies Are Using RFID
At Vantage ID, we’ve been helping companies deploy and integrate RFID technologies in their operations for well over a decade, and across numerous industries, seven key use cases have emerged as the primary applications.
1. Inventory Management
A recent study by Zebra Technologies, one of our partners in providing RFID solutions, found that 35% of warehouse operations plan to invest in RFID by 2024. The big reason is that RFID helps automate and error-proof inventory management, allowing warehouses to improve their inventory accuracy from the industry-standard of 65% to 95% or better.
Since RFID relies on a fully digital and machine-automate process, using wireless radio signals and ID chips embedded in each RFID tag to uniquely identify and track each item, it’s almost entirely error-proof. There’s virtually no risk of human error due to a missed barcode scan, more manual processes, or paper-based inventory management.
Also, since RFID allows large volumes of tagged inventory items, pallets or cases to be tracked wirelessly and remotely, with far less labor or potentially no labor at all, it offers huge cost and labor savings. In some cases, we’ve had customers hit 99% or better inventory accuracy while slashing their manual labor requirements and costs by double-digit percentages.
2. Asset Management
Wherever high-value assets and equipment need to be tracked, located, service and maintained, RFID is proven to be a huge advantage for better asset management too.
For example, many IT departments around the world now use Zebra RFID to track expensive laptops, company-issued mobile devices, and other technology assets. Since RFID can be used to track the last-known location of any tagged item, this helps ensure that these assets are never lost and can be quickly located whenever they’re misplaced or needed.
As another example, in the aerospace industry, where highly specialized and expensive production equipment needs to be located and moved between buildings at massive facilities, Zebra RFID allows items to be quickly located and moved whenever they’re needed. Instead of wasting time searching for equipment and tracking it down, workers can find what they need and get it in place in a fraction of the time. This helps eliminate catastrophically expensive costs from having to replace lost or missing equipment or procure multiple pieces of equipment unnecessarily.
Additionally, by identifying, locating and tracking assets with RFID, you can also match their IDs locations with status updates and other key data on maintenance, servicing and repair that you keep in your databases and other systems. As an example, in the energy sector, manufacturing, and other heavy industries, many companies use RFID and some simple software to manage and track all the maintenance, inspection and servicing for their assets and compliance. Their asset managers can digitally track the status and location of each item, its maintenance history, its scheduled inspections, and much more.
3. Supply Chain Visibility
Another big advantage of RFID is that it offers unprecedented visibility into your supply chain. Since it’s a locating technology and not just an identification and tracking technology, it can be used to track inventory, assets and other items as they move through your supply chain and related processes.
For example, you can install Zebra fixed-position RFID readers at dock doors to automatically detect and identify tagged items as they arrive at a facility. Then, as those items move through your facility and processes, fixed or handheld RFID readers can be used to identify and track each item, its location and its status, so you can know everything that’s on the move or at rest, and where it is in your supply chain.
This can be a huge benefit in managing your supply chain from receiving and put-away to inventory management, replenishment, and even picking, packing and shipping. When you can actually see what you have, how much you have, where it is, and what needs to be replenished or is on the way, with potentially real-time updates and accuracy, it can be a complete game-changer for many organizations.
4. Work-in-Process Tracking
Many organizations use RFID for work-in-process tracking, especially because RFID can help identify and track where things are located in your process flows, which items have arrived at a given stage, which ones are on the way to the next stage, and what’s happening from moment to moment. RFID is also a great way to error-proof your processes as well.
As a quick example, many manufacturers are now using Zebra RFID tags, readers and solutions to track which parts or components have arrived at each stage in production, verify that each is correct for that stage in the process, and automatically trigger exception alerts and digital notifications if something is missing or isn’t right. Additionally, RFID allows them to track and verify items as they leave each stage, so they always know where they are in the process, where they’re going next, and the status of every build.
Similarly, you can use RFID to track work-in-process for many other and processes areas. Wherever you need to know what assets are moving through your workflows and wherever you need to have an accurate and potentially real-time account of their identity as well as their current location and status, RFID can be a huge benefit.
Since RFID can uniquely identify, locate and track assets as they move through your supply chain or processes, it’s a great option for traceability. Each item is uniquely identified and tracked, and you can match each item’s ID to many other key data points that you collect along the way, so you know where each item has been, who handled it, who worked on it, or what happened with it.
In industries such as medical device manufacturing, RFID is used to tag, identify and track devices through each stage in production and to verify process steps, inspections, and compliance. In industries such as retail, it’s used to track which items are in transit to warehouses or stores, which have been unloaded and are now on shelves or in store aisles, and which have been sold and need to be replenished.
Ultimately, with RFID, you can create truly end-to-end digital traceability for virtually any asset and its related movement, data, and processes. All you need is the right RFID hardware tags, and software to track and collect all the data you need and integrate it with your other systems.
6. Quality Assurance
RFID can also be an extremely useful tool for quality assurance, especially when you need to track items for inspection, quarantine, process step verification, or other quality concerns. You can tag any item or even entire pallets of parts or finished goods, and you can use a unique identifier and RFID’s wireless locating and tracking capabilities to keep track of what it is, where and why it’s been set aside for quarantine, inspection, or review, and then update its status and location once it’s been released, scrapped or sent for rework.
7. Security and Emergency Response
So far, we’ve talked about how companies are using RFID to track, trace, verify and locate inventory or assets. But RFID also has some really important applications when it comes to people and ensuring their safety and security.
For example, many companies use employee or visitor ID cards embedded with RFID chips to control access to facilities or hazardous areas or other places where only authorized individuals should be permitted. In order to gain access to the area, a person has to present their ID card or walk through a fixed reader portal, and their identity and authorized access is verified. Otherwise, access is denied.
Similarly, RFID-enabled ID cards can be used to track whether people have safely exited a location or facility in the event of an emergency such as an evacuation due to a chemical spill. Using RFID readers at entrances and exit points, plus some simple software, managers can see the last-known locations of any workers and verify whether they crossed a key threshold and are now safely where they should be outside the facility or other danger zone.
Exploring RFID and Potential Use Cases for Your Business
We’ve covered a lot in this article, and only at a relatively high level, so if you’d like to learn more about RFID, its potential applications and use cases, and whether this technology is right for you, feel free to reach out to our RFID experts for more information.
We also have some quick infographics on How RFID Works and How Companies are Using It and the Advantages of RFID. You can also download our eBook: Now is the Time for RFID. But the best way to learn more and really explore RFID’s potential is to schedule a free consultation with us at your convenience.
We can provide a personalized overview of RFID based on your unique business challenges, help you understand whether RFID might help you tackle those challenges, and determine which use cases and technologies might be worth deeper explorations. To get started and schedule a consultation, just contact us now.