Retail stores, industrial sites, construction sites, hospitals and a lot more sites are already using RFID technology and have the infrastructure in place. Introducing battery-free LED tags that are compatible with that infrastructure and provide a visual aid for picking processes is time and cost effective and can lead to big improvements in efficiency and staff productivity.

RFID is becoming a commodity for supply chain management. RFID tags are placed directly onto goods – depending on the specific application goods to tag will be shipping containers, pallets, boxes or even items – and these tags are being used to monitor products through production, distribution and retail.

This commoditization started with two big implementations back in 2003: Department of Defense (DOD) and Walmart. Other implementations have followed the initial investments, most of them in the retail industry: Walmart, Tesco, Marks&Spencer, Liverpool and so on.

As significant ROIs are being demonstrated for different applications, more goods are being monitored in different industries such as IT equipment manufacturers (see Cisco’s case), transport (see the Swedish Transport  Administration case) or wine production (see Le Macchiole’s case) to:

  • enable more frequent and accurate inventory counts
  • reduce fraud
  • avoid stock outs and theft
  • remove labor costs associated to barcode scan

Automation opportunities in further processes within the supply chain

On top of that, efficiency in operations is improved in different processes by implementing the RFID technology. See a case for picking with an RFID enabled lift-truck:

The aim is most of the time reducing errors, having a more accurate inventory monitoring and reducing human labor.

However, there will always be activities associated to human intervention. There are plenty of tasks where human intervention is required but there is space for further automation.

One of the biggest opportunities is the picking process of the supply chain. Picking specific goods from a warehouse is error prone and time consuming. It also involves a lot of time consuming paperwork that is both inefficient and frustrating for your staff.

Pick to light systems have demonstrated a good ROI over the years. The main reason for that is that this automation system relies on a robust and complex data structure while the interface to the user is kept very simple: visible indicators. We are generally speaking about LEDs or basic segment displays showing requested quantities and forcing confirmation of the picking. See a brief video explaining how the system works.

RFID LED tags in picking processes

Following the idea of a visual aid, and looking for a solution that would integrate with already existing RFID infrastructure, we developed Stella UHF RFID LED tags. The Stella is a UHF battery-free LED indicator compatible with commercial EPC C1G2 readers that will flash their LED when required by the reader.

The objective of a system that includes LED tags is to help the user visually identify items or boxes. At an industrial site, retail store or any other location lots of very similar items that can easily be mistaken for each other. Stella tags will dramatically improve lead time and decrease errors.

Staff responsible for searching and picking the right items will carry a handheld RFID reader. LED tags will have a unique ID each. When correctly done, you can configure the solution to provide different levels of indications:

  • Setting the search for a unique item. No Stella tag will flash its LED except the one that has the specific ID associated to that specific item. Example, a manager requesting a specific box of a medium sized, red color T-shirt from a specific brand. She needs that specific box, no matter what’s inside.
  • Setting the search for any item within a family. All those LED tags that have a specific string within their unique ID will flash their LED. The string will be selected in the basis of the family code you implemented in the IDs. This way any item of that family will flash its LED allowing the user to pick the one she wants in that moment. Example, a customer asking for a specific type of shoes, color and size. The staff needs to identify ANY pair of shoes that comply with the request so the system will flash all the possibilities for them.

Putting the correct HW and SW in place will help you save time and money in a task that generally does not add any value to the end user.

Have you experienced this waste of time in search tasks? Worried about the accuracy of your picking process and the associated costs? Share your thoughts with the rest of the readers!