Distribution center operations may not seem driven by technology. But times are changing rapidly, and anything that facilitates the management and organization of your operations can provide a huge advantage.
Remember, a distribution center can encompass millions of square feet of space. Managing all of that with pen and paper invites error and can be tedious at best. Fortunately, RFID technology can have a tremendous impact on the modern warehouse and distribution center in terms of efficiency and results.
What is RFID Technology?
RFID stands for radio frequency identification. It’s a type of wireless technology that transfers data using radio-frequency electromagnetic fields. Currently, RFID technology is used in a variety of industries to monitor everything from your passport to your pet’s location. With its ability to identify and track in real-time, it’s not surprising that RFID technology has become a valuable tool for warehouse and distribution management.
RFID is often confused with barcodes. But it’s not the same thing. Unlike barcodes, RFID technology doesn’t require a direct line of sight from a reader. This eliminates the need for a worker to manually scan every item, especially when it might be tough to access.
So, how does RFID work? An RFID tag (or chip) is attached to the item you want to track. Using an electromagnetic signal, information pulled from that tag is recorded in the central database of the warehouse management system as the item moves through different processes in the distribution center.
The Benefits of Using RFID in Your Distribution Center
Keeping track of activity in your warehouse and distribution center is vital - whether it is items moving between end-users, company sites, or distributors. The process often involves multiple stages, such as receiving goods, breaking down pallets for storage, picking items for shipment, and assembling new shipments. And there are opportunities for bottlenecks and errors at every stage. Here are some of the benefits of using RFID technology in your distribution center.
No Line of Sight Required
With RFID, data can be read without a direct line of sight to the tags. This means that your distribution center can track products or people from anywhere within a specified range.
Massive Storage Capacity
RFID tags can store up to 100 times as much data as barcodes, allowing your business to keep track of all the data it needs to make its operation more efficient and profitable, such as size, lot, serial number, user, expiration date, vendor, and more.
Faster Processing Time
RFID readers can process up to 200 tags at a time. This capability allows your business to increase its productivity since workers will no longer need to physically scan every label.
Ease of Use
Where you can position the tags on items is flexible, provided it isn’t blocked by water or metal, since the reader doesn’t have to physically see the reader scan the tag. For example, RFID tags can be placed within a pallet or box.
RFID technology works both inside and outside the distribution center. The technology and RFID tags have the ability to withstand harsh temperatures and environments.
Ways to Incorporate RFID Technology in Your Distribution Center
Here are some of the ways your distribution center can incorporate RFID technology.
1. Inventory Management
Distribution centers face specific challenges when managing products. In such a spread-out environment, keeping track of so many items can be challenging, especially with hundreds or more people on staff.
RFID technology can help you keep tabs on your inventory so you can avoid backorders and shortages. The warehouse management system is automatically updated as an item progresses through the distribution system, making it easier to manage the operation.
2. Inventory Auditing
When items are lost or misplaced in the system, it leads to costly delays, missed deadlines, wasted labor, and much more. Employees might inadvertently place items in the wrong location or input items incorrectly in a tracking program.
RFID technology can help your operation address and solve many of these common issues without having to go through labor-intensive and costly inventory audits that can take days or longer.
RFID gives your distribution center a current and clear picture of where and when inventory travels, saving precious seconds each time a pallet moves. This leads to time savings tracking and locating inventory as well as the elimination of unnecessary processes.
3. Asset Tracking
Distribution centers are full of critical and costly equipment that workers need to keep the operation moving efficiently. What happens when those assets aren’t where they are expected or, worse, they disappear completely?
RFID technology can keep track of your warehouse’s vital equipment, such as mobile devices, computer equipment, and vehicles. This can save precious time during a typical workday as well as be a cost-saving measure.
4. Labor Management
When you have a large operation, it can be full of labor management challenges. Who has access to certain parts of the distribution center? Where are key staff members when you need them?
RFID technology gives you the ability to control access to your distribution using keycards or badges. You can also monitor workers in real-time, analyzing their movements to create the most optimal and efficient processes possible.
5. Shipping & Receiving Management
Shipping and receiving issues can make or break an otherwise efficient distribution center. Having access to real-time information about incoming and outgoing drivers and pallets gives you the information you need to continually refine your processes.
Without RFID, drivers might sit around waiting for workers to show up for loading or unloading tasks. This technology gives the distribution center the data it needs to dispatch the right equipment and workers to receive deliveries and be ready to meet drivers in real-time for outgoing shipments.
6. Distribution Center Safety
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that roughly one in twenty workers are injured in warehouse accidents annually. These result in lost time from work, medical treatment, and other costs.
RFID technology gives warehouses and distribution centers the data they need to investigate these matters. Employers can take action to avoid such accidents in the future and create a more positive culture of safety that will improve efficiency and overall results.
RFID technology offers distribution centers and warehouses a wealth of benefits, allowing them to increase efficiencies and reduce costs through automation. RFID can be an effective component of a warehouse management system and help a business deliver a better client experience.
Want to learn more about adopting RFID technology? Contact us today for more information about our solutions.