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RFID & Logistics Management

RFID & Logistics Management

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Logistics vs. Logistics Management

Logistics is defined as the flow or movement of supplies, goods, services, and/or information within a  supply chain. When most people hear the word “logistics”, they think of logistics providers, like UPS, USPS, or FedEx, which are all companies that help to facilitate that flow.

Logistics Management is the behind the scenes planning, implementing, and controlling of an efficient and effective flow of goods, services, and information. For logistics to run smoothly from the point of origin in the supply chain to the point of consumption in a supply chain, there must be a strategic logistics management plan.

How Does RFID Help Logistics Management?

The key to successfully enhancing logistics management using RFID technology is creating visibility and a chain of custody. Without any sort of visibility into where an item is located, or where it was last located, a company is essentially gambling when sending any items out of a facility.  RFID tags can be placed directly on an item, a box, or pallet of items in order to uniquely identify the item(s). That  unique ID number can be read during placement and  associated within a software program with pertinent information like item descriptors, sender, receiver, item value, order number, or purchase order information.

There are a couple applications that can work together to provide a solid base for logistics management, RFID shipment verification and  RFID inventory management.

RFID Shipment Verification

When the tagged items are unloaded from trucks, they are taken through  RFID portals and the RFID tags are read. Upon being read, the software will query the associated information which can then be used for a few different purposes:

• Receiving counts against noted items shipped

• Route the pallet/item to a holding area or zone within the facility

• Receive the item via software

• Route the pallet/item into another truck

• Visibility on time spent during sections of the channel - opportunities for improvement

• Driver Accountability of delivery/receipt

One of the most notable instances of RFID-enabled  shipment verification (also called ‘in-transit visibility’) is how the Department of Defense is utilizing this technology. The Department of Defense, or DoD, uses RFID technology on all incoming and outgoing shipments in order to easily identify and track their items. The DoD mandated all shipments be tagged with RFID tags in 2003-2004 in their Identification Marking and Military Marking initiatives. Not only are all items sold to the DoD required to have RFID tags, but the tags must contain very specific information pertaining to the identification of the items per the Item Unique Identification standard or (UID). Any items sold and shipped to the DoD without this information available via an attached RFID tag will be shipped back to the manufacturer.

If all items are tracked when they enter and leave the building, it is also important to track them if they will be in a holding zone or in inventory.

In this age of technology, it is no longer enough for companies to simply know the last place an item was or that an item or pallet is within a large warehouse or facility.

RFID Inventory Management

Once items or pallets of items have been read and ‘checked in’ within a facility, they must be managed properly. This can be achieved by placing RFID hardware throughout a facility either by implementing additional portal systems or by deploying overhead  RFID readers to track the item’s progress and placement. Once these hardware setups have been placed throughout a facility’s holding area, software can be used to label them as ‘Zones’ and keep a record of the item’s movement or specific location.

When a facility is split into  zones, the software can be setup to record tag reads and work in conjunction with an active Warehouse Management System (WMS), or a new system can be setup that would integrate the two software pieces into one. If a current WMS is in place, but relies on barcode of clipboards, there are multiple benefits from adding RFID technology. Here are a few of the major differences:

• Ability to read multiple items/pallets at one time

• Hands free automation (smart forklifts / smart shelving racks)

• Less human interaction = less human error

• Saved labor hours

If items are simply routing through a facility and will not be held, incorporating inventory management is not a must-have, but additional portals throughout the facility could help keep an item visible while navigating internally.

RFID Logistics Management, in Review

It is imperative to be able to uniquely identify items and track their location from the moment they enter a facility, to the moment they leave. Whether a company simply receives items and routes them through a facility to another truck, or if they receive inventory that lasts months stored in a warehouse – visibility is still key to effective and efficient logistics and warehouse management.

Conclusion

For more information on all things RFID, or more information specifically on how RFID is used for Supply Chain Management, check out the links below, comment below, or contact us!