This content is part of the Essential Guide: A guide to warehouse management systems technology

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How warehouse automation can be tightened up with RFID

RFID can be a powerful tool for improving inventory control and tightening up warehouse automation.

Today's technological market gives companies' operating warehouses many opportunities to automate their operations. Warehouse automation options range from voice picking, machine-to-machine automation, work-cell optimization, robotic picking, laser-controlled lift trucks, conveyor sorting, automatic carousel picking, using packaging and sorting machines, and, chiefly, radio frequency identification (RFID).

In facilities where inventory control is managed by RFID,  a radio frequency apparatus can be easily deployed for complete warehouse automation. Radio frequency scanners are used to pick items, verify quantities, validate customer information and identify locations of inventory in the warehouse. The decrease in RFID pricing over the years has made it a viable option for organizations that want to automate significant chunks of their warehouse operations, saving time and money.  RFID software, known as middleware, is now offered by many vendors as cloud systems, which further reduces implementation costs and decreases the complexity of a once-costly initiative.

Areas of focus for RFID warehouse automation

Organizations can utilize RFID in several areas in order to automate warehouse operations, including receiving, inventory control and shipping. A success factor for utilizing RFID for warehouse automation is to solicit buy-in from the entire trading partner network to ensure cooperation. If products are individually tagged, they can be tracked. Whether an organization is using pallet RFID tags or individual tagging by product, an RFID station can easily be set up to scan the entire pallet of goods down to the item level.

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The scanned data will then register and update the software, automating the receiving process. The same is also true when items are packed, palletized and ready to be shipped. An RFID station is used to scan the items, which are verified against order quantities and customer order numbers, validating item authenticity and verifying the method of transport -- usually, a truck number. RFID works namely by using a proximity-based method of scanning. The driver or worker locates the packages or pallets within the confines of the station and the RFID tags do the rest, recording and updating inventory levels by order number, pallet number, item number or all of the above.   

RFID's benefits span the enterprise

Using one method of warehouse automation, such as RFID, can greatly simplify operations, reduce costs, maximize efficiencies, reduce errors and save time -- all of which impact bottom-line results. A best practice approach is to combine several technologies -- such as barcoding and RFID -- to automate an entire process. The automation can result in increased order accuracy, lower inventory-carrying costs due to accurate forecasting, and increased customer satisfaction. With such potential benefits, RFID is an easy way to increase gains without much capital costs. Lower costs to implement RFID and achieve warehouse automation, all while ensuring a quicker return on investment and lower total cost of ownership? That should make the board happy.

About the authors: 
Dylan Persaud is managing director at Eval-Source. His 20 years of IT experience is highlighted with 14 years at the enterprise level. Past positions include business systems analyst, implementation lead, project/product manager, enterprise architect, configuration specialist, market analyst and a manager of research, which has allowed him to examine organizations from the ground up and has given him a high-level overview of the enterprise software market. Working for companies such as IBM, IDC, Indigo and TEC, he has focused on how businesses can run more efficiently.

Keean Persaud, managing director at Eval-Source, has more than 15 years of enterprise software experience. His experience in the software industry includes working for companies such as IBM and National Instruments, and has guided him toward specialized application sales of TMS and business software tools. Persaud created vendor programs, managed and created channels, created company-wide sales strategies, sold software, and is co-creator of the Tru-Eval system.  

Follow on Twitter @ManufacturingTT.

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