Posted by Louis J. Cerny, Vice President on 01.09.18
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, which have been around for decades, have largely been ignored in distribution environments in favor of less expensive and more universal barcode labels. Recently, RFID has been getting more attention in retail stores, where it has dramatically improved inventory management. RFID also may bring significant advantages to the distribution center in certain applications.
How RFID Works
RFID is an integrated circuit equipped with a memory chip and an imprinted antenna that transmits data when triggered by a reader device. Instead of a laser collecting reflections off a printed barcode label, RFID uses radio frequencies to read from and write to the chip. Passive tags rely on the reader to activate and supply the power needed to transmit data. Active tags have a battery, which makes them larger and more expensive but enables them to be read at longer distances. RFID tags can be as small as a fingernail or as large as a brick.
RFID tags offer significant benefits not provided by traditional barcode labels:
Based on these benefits, some operational reasons to consider RFID technology in the distribution center include:
The biggest hindrance in implementing RFID technology is cost – both for the tags and the scanning equipment. Barcode labels are substantially cheaper – especially at the item level. And, unlike universal barcoding, RFID tag variances across countries may require multiple systems to track product in an international supply chain.
In order to maximize the visibility enabled by RFID tags, a company not only needs to outfit its facilities for readability, but also gain user compliance from its suppliers, carriers, and customers. Managing all of the additional data may also be a challenge.
RFID implementation requires careful planning and is best managed in stages to allow testing and validation that it meets expectations for the application. A thorough ROI analysis is required to determine if RFID tagging is a good fit for your operation.
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