Warehouse Automation: What is RFID?

Automation in the warehouse is critical to the overall success of your organization’s supply chain. Not only does automation save time through improved efficiency, but it increases visibility into your processes to improve accuracy. One such technology is RFID, a method of inventory tracking that is becoming more accessible in the supply chain industry. RFID, or radio-frequency identification, is a tag or label encoded with digital data that is captured through radio waves.

What is RFID?

While RFID has been around for a while, it continues to pop up more and more in our everyday lives. From effortlessly capturing payment information through a touchless toll pass system, to scanning into a Walt Disney World theme park, RFID is making data collection and asset tracking quicker and easier. In fact, you may have even scanned an ID badge with an RFID chip in it to enter your workplace this morning.

The beauty of RFID is that you do not need line of sight to scan. In fact, many RFID users can scan entire pallets of inventory without having to see a barcode. While this works great for many use cases, RFID is often complementary to barcode scanning. Utilizing both can act as a failsafe. For example, high value items may benefit from having an RFID tag attached to them so they are easily located and accounted for. However, if the RFID tag fails, having a barcode back up is a great way to ensure full traceability. We cover the many different forms and uses of RFID in this podcast episode:


What do I Need for RFID?

There are many different forms – some as small as a grain of rice – that RFID can take. To understand which form of RFID might be right for you, first it's important to understand that there are two kinds of RFID: active and passive. You will also need a way to print and read these tags.

  • PASSIVE: Passive tags are comprised of three elements: an integrated circuit or chip, an antenna, and a substrate. Passive tags have no internal power source, as they wait for a signal from the RFID reader to send out RF waves.
  • ACTIVE: Active tags have both a microchip and an antenna. The chips, however, are usually larger in size and have greater capabilities since they have an internal power sources and a longer range. Active tags are sometimes known as transponders or beacons.
  • RFID READER: An RFID Reader is a key component of an RFID Solution. Readers activate a tag within its range and then collects the tag data. Readers also have the capability to write or encode an RFID tag as well. This may be a portal or a handheld scanner.
  • RFID SPECIFIC HARDWARE: You might need a RFID Printer which is an industrial printer that can print barcodes. You can also utilize special labels that have an RFID tag inside. Once your label is printed, you will need to be able to read it. That’s where a mobile computer, or other barcode-scanning hardware, may be of use. A mobile computer can utilize Bluetooth technology to read RFID labels or tags.

Where Does it Work?

  • HEALTHCARE: RFID has great possibility in healthcare to eliminate the role of clinicians in managing supplies (billing, inventory). RFID holds the hope of automatically decrementing, billing, and managing inventory. Healthcare supply and implant manufacturers have made headway in labeling some products to begin to enable utilization in the healthcare environment.
  • RETAIL/ECOMMERCE: In retail environments, portal scanners can be placed at the exits of a store to prevent shoplifting. In a retail warehouse or storage facility, tags or labels can be affixed to a pallet, case, or the item itself. But the real value of RFID comes from being able to scan many assets quickly. As the tagged items pass through a portal, they are scanned simultaneously. This high-velocity scanning even captures tags that could be hidden from view inside of a box, making it ideal for rapid cycle counting. RFID can add value to any retail, distribution, or eCommerce business.
  • MANUFACTURING: Many manufacturers have elected to integrate RFID into their warehouses as an extension of traditional barcode data collection. By integrating this automation into a WMS, manufacturers can benefit from unmanned automation, serialized tracking, asset control, and customer compliance. RFID can be integrated for manufacturers to track finished goods to the dock doors, but some RFID users also choose to integrate RFID to a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) to trigger a variety of actions as an item moves throughout the manufacturing process.

Read the Blog: Automation Tips for Manufacturing Customers

Using RFID with your WMS

If you are planning on investing in RFID, you need a way to get that data into your ERP. RF-SMART's Automation module is built with our proven ERP integration to communicate and directly update your ERP with material movement and inventory changes. You can easily customize workflows and set default parameters of transactions for your 3rd party solutions. We’ve even added an Exception Handling capabilities so you can review, edit, and resubmit transactions in the transaction history.

As RFID continues in popularity, it may be time to investigate how it can add value to your business. If you’re interested in hearing how supply chain professionals like you are using RFID, check out the podcast with RF-SMART & Zebra, What is RFID?

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