Harnessing RFID for Asset Visibility

March 19, 2013

Material Handling Management

Asset Management Improvements for Manufacturers by Leveraging RFID Technology

Manufacturers have growing needs for data and transparency in their supply chains. Paper-based tracking methods are no longer sufficient for modern systems as their timeliness and accuracy often does not meet the demands of the integrated systems. The prevalence of integrated ERP, Warehouse Management System (WMS), MES/MOM and other systems have driven businesses to invest in methodologies for tracking of internal assets whether they be personnel, equipment, raw materials or finished goods.

Asset Management Technology – From Labelling to RFID

Labeling and collecting information regarding assets can been challenging. Manufacturing environments are often harsh and the ability to install identification equipment is often difficult. In some cases, the environments also affect the survivability of the identifiers and the equipment used to read them.

The use of barcode technology has been very prevalent in asset management and tracking applications for many years. Unfortunately, there are many applications where the use of labels that must be printed, molded, applied or engraved are not practical. In some of these applications, the use of RFID has provided manufacturers with the ability to identify and track their assets more effectively.

Considerations for RFID Asset Management

Several advantages of RFID technology are:

  • Can allow for read-only or read/write applications,
  • RFID tags that are suitable for harsh environments can be procured,
  • Can be chosen to best suit the application and required read/write characteristics, and
  • Does not require line of sight for reading.

Each frequency has characteristics that must be considered when approaching an application.

Cost is a major consideration for any application that is using RFID tags that will be disposed of. However, frequency should also be a consideration; each frequency has certain applications for which they perform best. For example, UHF (902-928MHz) tags are often used in warehouse applications due to their relatively low cost and the ability to read many tags at a high rate.

Example Application – RFID In a Warehouse

Manually manipulating data in inventory systems can lead to lengthy, time-consuming problems due to small errors or oversights. To reduce labor and errors, some manufacturers have leveraged RFID technology to automate these tasks. Pallets with RFID tags replace conventional barcode labels and open the door for new automated procedures that increase efficiency.

Here are two example implementations of how pallets of finished goods with RFID tags increase asset visibility while decreasing costs:

Process Inventory Management

A pallet is created using a palletizing machine. A scanning system captures the RFID tag of the pallet as it exits the machine and communicates to the automation system to identify the other pertinent data about the products (product type, count, etc). The information that is then place in a local data store and indexed to the RFID tag of the pallet. The information in the data store can then be used in further operations in the production or warehouse facility. It can also be leveraged to automatically provide the announcement of the new product to the Warehouse Management System. This replaces a function typically performed by a material handling person and eliminates the opportunity for entry error.

Material Handling Management

When an outbound product load is being created, the Warehouse Management System dispatches a request for a finished pallet. The pallet is stored at a known location in a warehouse rack. The material handler is tasked to retrieve the specific finished pallet and is able to simply drive through an RFID gateway that will detect all tags that pass through it. As each pallet is loaded, the shipping manifest is updated accordingly and the location of the pallet is changed in the WMS automatically.

This provides real-time access to each unit of finished product, control over the use of finished goods with shelf lives, and limits the potential for loading errors.

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