Radio frequency tech use growing to track goods

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Manufacturers are embracing radio frequency identification (RFID) technology as a better way to locate and report on supply chain performance. 

However, they are not the only ones leaning into this technology. According to a PWC article, the retail sector is forecast to become the biggest user of RFID technology by 2024, with spending estimated to increase from 5% of total global RFID spend today to 27% by 2024.

According to Zebra’s Global Director for Supply Chain Solutions, Mark Wheeler, it is easy to understand why RFID technology is gaining popularity, as constant visibility with respect to tagged goods eradicates any uncertainty about the status of each item and increases accountability for their movements. This makes it easier to optimise processes, identify bottlenecks in workflows, and report on production and fulfilment processes to key stakeholders.

Here are some of the ways RFID technology is being implemented by manufacturers trying to take back control of their production processes and improve supply chain performance.

A look at what’s happening beyond the line

A successful manufacturing workflow requires thorough operational oversight and a keen understanding of how well processes are working. RFID technology can provide both by encouraging continuous improvement and eliminating wasted time and opportunities for error. For example, a manufacturer using RFID technology in conjunction with other location technologies can see whether a forklift has strayed off course. This could be an indication that there may be something wrong with the larger workflow, like an object or person blocking the more efficient route. A floor supervisor can immediately intervene to correct the problem and keep production flowing. An investigation into the root cause of the issue can then be started to ensure it does not happen again.

In addition, by utilising RFID readers at dock doors, manufacturers will know the moment something is loaded onto a truck or container, which enables them to track and report their on-hand inventory as well as goods in route to customers.  This allows manufacturers to know when something goes missing and to expedite, even automate, billing processes.

Demands to “Tag at the Source” are turning the tables on manufacturers

Food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers are under more pressure than ever to meet tight fulfillment deadlines. By tagging their assets, manufacturers are better positioned to comply with customer demands as they can see the position of people, equipment, and goods with a refreshing accuracy, empowering them to act when something – or someone – goes off course.  

Increasingly, retailers, healthcare providers, governments and even hospitality industry leaders aiming to regain control over their supply chains and stockrooms have been initiating Supply Chain 4.0 modelling and source tagging requirements on manufacturers.

According to Zebra’s Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Vision Study, medication availability is one of the leading challenges cited by pharmaceutical industry decision-makers. Supply chain management has proven to be an equally difficult struggle for retailers, with shoppers often leaving disappointed due to items being out of stock. Currently, 71% or surveyed shoppers are leaving without items they came to buy, and among those, 49% say it was due to out-of-stocks, according to Zebra’s 14th Annual Global Shopper Study. Maintaining end-to-end visibility into pallets and packages is key to reducing waste and loss – and one of the best ways to ensure that shortages do not result in lost customers. Similarly, maintaining visibility into the location of wheelchairs, IV pumps and other equipment is key to delivering the highest quality of patient care. That is why approximately 80% of hospital executives plan to automate workflows in the next year, with many planning to invest in real-time location systems – they want to make locating critical equipment and medical assets easier for all staff.

When items are tagged at the source, all parties downstream benefit as they inherit an easy way to track inventory and assets in stores, restaurants, hospitals, and hotels.

RFID in practice

When items are tagged at the source, manufacturers gain an organic way of tracking produced goods in and outside their facilities. Distributors, warehouse operators, and shippers can also install fixed readers that automatically recognise and report when goods come in, are put away, picked, packed, and shipped. When wide-area readers are not the right fit, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can be deployed to automatically roam the floor, read RFID tags, and verify item locations.

Retailers and service providers can give workers handheld RFID readers to instantly count, locate and report on all goods within the four walls of their facilities or out in the field.  Healthcare providers, pharmacists, first responders and other critical care providers can also use RFID technology to locate the supplies and equipment they need to keep people healthy and alive.

Plus, with RFID tags now readable on metal, liquid-based items, and cold chain products (including frozen meat), there is really no excuse not to utilize RFID technology.

You can find more information on how to leverage RFID in manufacturing environments here.

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Sales Engineer Manager, ANZ Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific

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