You probably have heard the term RFID in regards to storage and supply chain management. RFID is a technology that has the ability to revolutionize the way inventoried items are managed, accounted for, transported and tracked. More specifically, for the cold chain, RFID is used for temperature monitoring, quality control, food safety, asset management, regulatory compliance and to improve efficiencies and reduce costs, resulting in a positive ROI.
RFID falls into the category of automatic identification, or auto ID. Auto ID technology includes bar codes, smart codes, RFID and any other system that allows machines to identify objects and get information about them into a computer without having a human typing it in.
One advantage of RFID over other auto ID systems is that multiple, even hundreds, of tags can all be read simultaneously. An example could be a vehicle driving through an RFID-enabled portal and every item could be instantly read for real-time response and/or decision. Because RFID contains so much information in such a tiny space, it can reduce labor costs and human error and can also be utilized where space is constrained by placing readers in the walls, ceilings or floors of the facility. RFID antennas can also read around corners and do not need “line of sight” as bar code readers do. Finally, RFID tags have the ability to detect and store more information than other types of auto ID methods, including temperature, time elapsed in transit, specific sourcing information and so on.
There are several component parts to an RFID solution—tags, antennas, readers and portals. Tags are tiny computer chips that store information and transmit it to readers. Tags come in many different sizes, configurations and capabilities. For example, there are waterproof tags, food safe tags, temperature-sensing tags and tags that can go inside a living animal. Each tag is unique, allowing item level tracking and data all the way through the supply chain on a granular level. For example, a robust RFID system can identify a package of vegetables from the store back to the distribution center and finally, all the way back to the farm it came from. This amount of data significantly reduces the cost of recalls because it can pinpoint only those items that have actually been contaminated.
Antennas send a signal to the tags to prompt the transmittal of the tags’ information to the RFID reader. From there, the information goes into a computer where it can be acted upon in real time. For example, in a shipment of meat, the RFID tags can show which packages have an earlier expiration date, so the shelving can be FEFO (first expired, first out) instead of FIFO (first in, first out) for maximum product freshness.
In warehouses and distribution centers, RFID antennas and readers are frequently housed in portals at the end of aisles, at loading docks and in doorways for more automated data capture. By doing this, manual labor is not increased, but efficiencies are.
More and more retailers are recognizing the benefits of RFID, and are implementing it in their facilities and requiring suppliers to do the same. But, compliance with customer requirements is not the only reason to consider using RFID in your warehouse or distribution center; do it because doing so will make your operation more efficient, ease compliance with food safety laws, improve customer service and help you be more profitable year after year. In short, RFID works!