RFID has found its way into nearly every industry and every part of the supply chain. But common misperceptions about its extensibility continue to persist, as imaginations for its use have not kept pace with some of the capabilities and it's steadily decreasing the cost to implement. But as the cost and variety of tags get more diverse every day, so do the potential applications.
When You Need to Ship Your Stuff, And Get it Back Every Day
The typical example we always talk about with RFID involves a warehouse and our ability to know where things are, when they come in, when they are moved and when they are eventually shipped out to a customer or another facility. But what about situations where the items that leave your receiving dock every day are expected back, and then need to go back out the next day? And then repeat the process, every day?
This is the typical scenario for any business that dispatches trucks loaded with parts, tools, equipment or even consumables on a daily basis, sends them out to visit clients to repair, install, pick-up, or do whatever they need to do, then come back at the end of the day. Think of plumbers, gutter installers, utility repair, etc.
What do they all have in common? They dispatch people out into the world every day with a set of valuables that need to be returned, cleaned, refilled, repaired, etc. so they can be used the next day again.
The Complexity of Wanting to Get Your Stuff Back Every Day
Let’s start with an example of commercial pump installation and servicing business (and honestly, it could be a plumber, a solar panel company, an HVAC business or any other of a long list of similar business models).
This business has an office attached to its warehouse facility, and every day twenty trucks are dispatched from this facility to different construction sites and buildings where installation and repair work has been scheduled. For each truck, the list of what is required for each job may or may not exist. If it did, we could assume the trucks are sent out with some combination of the following:
- Standard toolkits (loaded for every job, every day)
- Specialized tools (based on the specific job requirement)
- New products for installation
- Replacement parts (based on the specific job requirement)
- Testing equipment
- Lighting equipment
- Waste containers
- Work clothes and protective gear
Every day it’s important that each truck and driver leave the facility with the right tools, parts, equipment, and gear. But a business like this might have different requirement for each truck each day.
Truck 1 (heading to the site of new building construction for a full day) – Needs new pump equipment, installation tools, testing equipment and appropriate gloves, helmet, etc. in addition to the standard toolset.
Truck 2 (is booked for four service and maintenance appointments) – Needs new parts based on potential repair scenarios, testing equipment, waste containers in addition to the standard toolset.
Not only is there a lot of complexity in getting the trucks outfitted with the right set of tools and equipment every day, but then there is the issue of having them return at the end of the day and unloading their contents back into storage. Some things don’t come back – either by getting lost or being forgotten – while other things might need maintenance or cleaning. So we end up with a lot of potential questions:
- How does each driver know they have everything they need before they leave?
- How does a facility manager know what goes on which truck?
- How does a facility manager know when something hasn’t been returned?
- How do they know if something is due for regular maintenance or cleaning?
Reduce Equipment Loss. Improve Reliability. Never Miss Maintenance.
As it turns out, this is an ideal application for RFID. Tagging your equipment and tools allows for a very precise and smooth way to keep track of all of your inventory, AND also stay on top of cleaning and maintenance schedules. Here is how it would work:
- All outgoing items that trucks take out every day get tagged. Use appropriate tags as needed – some are designed to be flexible (useful on extension cords), others perform better when on metal surfaces (best for equipment).
- Loading docks and even trucks get set up with a gate reader. Anything moving in or out of the facility can then be recorded.
- Before departure in the morning, teams that prepping the equipment can load everything needed into bins or carts, and then scan the tags to compare the outgoing equipment and tools with a manifest prepared the night before based on that day’s needs for that truck.
- When items are offloaded from the truck at the end of the day, passing through the RFID gate will register that item as “returned” and be replaced in your on-site inventory.
- Set up your tracking software to account for special cases. For example, if some testing equipment needs to be recalibrated after every ten uses, set up your process so that it gets flagged when returned on its tenth time out of the facility. Waste containers and personal gear can also be set up to be flagged for regular cleaning as needed. This way you can set up standards for frequency of maintenance and cleaning of items like this.
Extending the Possibilities
This is just one example of an innovative approach to using RFID that does not have the same kind of recurring variable expense you would have in a typical fulfillment situation. In this case, assets are being tracked not only as a security measure to avoid an excessive loss but also as a way to improve workflow, handling, accuracy, and professionalism of your operations in support of superior customer service.
What other examples can you think of where service is improved in addition to having better control of inventory and process? Later this year, we will share with you a case study of something similar we implemented for a unique application in the healthcare world. Stay tuned.