What is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)?
RFID stands for radio frequency identification. It helps check inventory by using radio wave-based technology. The technology is wireless and transfers data by using radio-frequency electromagnetic fields. This technology helps with tracking and identifying inventory in real-time. This type of technology can be found in passports or microchipping. In warehouse automation, RFID Technology will allow real-time visibility of what products or materials are in stock, how many are needed to maintain and to replenish. All of this inventory data available at the same time.
How Does it Work?
With the way it works, the RFID tags can either be ‘active’ or ‘passive’. For the ‘active’ RFID technology, it can operate from the reader that is hundreds of meters away. It does this by using a local power source (think of like an in-built battery). On the other hand, the ‘passive’ RFID technology mainly relies on the use of radio emissions of a reader device. It then activates a geolocation reading and other kinds of essential documentation.
Operators can obtain access to its stored items’ history based on the serial number that is unique and connected to the tag or chip.
Let’s use an example of a shipment. In a shipment, the RFID (either tag or chip) is attached to the items in either individual boxes or the entire pallet. The RFID tag (or chip) uses an electromagnetic signal to transmit information. The information is then transmitted to a central database. The data is then analyzed by a warehouse management system. It does this because, in each tag, it has an internal memory that stores the item’s information which then can be modified while moving through the different processes in the warehouse.
What are its Advantages?
The RFID, when executed well, makes a good impact on all sectors and factors of supply chain management.
The RFID’s main advantages rely on how the operators can modify the technology to associate different datasets with a given asset. It goes beyond geographical location. The use of RFID’s different type of tags can recall operational information, examples such as the item’s amount of item that’s in storage, the number of occasions stock that has been accessed, and the inventory status which is for things like “awaiting to be pick up” or “reserved for customers” and the like.
How it Affects Warehouse Automation
Technology is a huge factor nowadays. It has a big role when it comes to keeping things organized and running things smoothly. It helps with reducing the number of errors and overall improving efficiency. While at first glance warehouse operations don’t seem to have anything to do with it, that is not the case. In fact, RFID technology is one of the most impactful types of technology when it comes to modern warehouses and distribution sensors.
The technology of RFID’s most primary efficient trait is the fact that it reduces the amount of time. The reduced time taken then gauges the data on a given stock item. This technology reduces the need for monitoring than any of its predecessors. Basically, data gathering starts once the required number of tags (or chips) in an inventory is installed.
Saving processing time isn’t the only function of RFID technology. For human operators, this means that it reduces their hours in completing tasks, mainly inventory control. Because of that, more valuable tasks can be assigned to staff on the ground. More valuable tasks such as dealing with clients like customers or suppliers, etc.
With warehouse automation using RFID, supply chain would have little to no problem in locating the inventory.
What Makes it Different from Barcodes?
RFID is different from barcodes due to the fact that RFID tags do not need readers within the same line of sight. This means that the tracking chips don’t need to be in line with barcode scanners. Because of this, the items would have no problem being filed or examined and to return data. Even if it is hidden behind other goods it doesn’t pose a problem. This solves the problem of needing someone to check each (for example a box) manually. Essentially, the use of RFID makes it very convenient for operators since they can find stock efficiently.
Let’s say for example, in a retail warehouse. An employee has the assignment of locating and tagging a shirt brand’s whole stock range. If we use barcode scanners, the timeframe for this would be much longer. It would take longer for the employee to go through each location and scan each item. However, if we were to use active RFID tags, this one employee alone could do this job with more efficiency. This is due to the fact that the active RFID tags can help find the physical location of multiple storage containers. This employee can do this while simultaneously and remotely alter any data if needed.
What is the Downside?
One reason being is that these RFID tags are quite costly. The more active RFID tags can cause sticker-shock. Aside from worrying about the price, the internal batteries themselves aren’t removable. The entire tag itself needs replacement every three to five years. Meanwhile, for the passive tags, they are much cheaper but aren’t as durable as the active ones. Active or passive, both tags still come with a heavy price in tracking every item.
Another problem is that they have a risk for interference problems. While it is true it doesn’t need line-of-site to read the data from an RFID tag, there are still some limits. They can’t be read from just anywhere or in all conditions. It is going to be difficult for the reader to do its job if there is a lot of metal or liquid between the tag and the reader.
Going back to the comparison between barcodes and the RFID tags, the RFID tags can hold more data than the other. While the RFID tags can produce a lot of data, the question comes how much data is actually needed? It can be quite overwhelming to manage the amount of information with RFID tags. That alone can be quite a job of itself. There will need the use of servers to handle that kind of influx of data. Intaking some of the information while ignoring others will need configurations as well.
Lastly, as a whole, the RFID tags are not standardized, at least not yet. They are all different across industries and tag manufacturers. Not to mention they are all different depending on the country. The costs of tags and data formats may increase when tracking inventory internationally. Deploying different systems in different locations means costs may increase significantly.
Nowadays, a large number of industries use RFID technology to oversee everything. It can monitor almost everything, from your family pet to your passport. Its ability to track and identify in real-time has led it to become an invaluable tool. With all that it can do, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it has indeed become a helpful progressive step.
In the end, the RFID technology symbolizes a change. It represents a step towards a more workflow-efficient supply chain management. And especially it showcases a progressive future when it comes to warehouse automation.