Technology improvements are changing the way work is conducted in warehouses. The biggest improvement has occurred in the management of goods. The pen and paper is replaced by the wireless scanner and the warehouse management system software (WMS). Scanning is not only faster, but it also reduces clerical errors. Below is a breakdown of the two most common scanning technologies found in warehouses, RFID scanning and barcode readers.
In the first part of the 21st century, RFID was hailed as a game changing technology. Unfortunately RFID didn’t take off as quickly as predicted. The high starting price kept many would be users away. However the technology hung around and became more prevalent when the price dropped. The second coming of RFID saw the growth predicted early on. In 2014 businesses are expected to spend close to $20 billion on the technology.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is a two-part technology consisting of a hand held scanner and a chip often called a smart label or transponder. The chips contain stored information that can be accessed wirelessly by a scanner. RFID chips are durable and can be used in extremely harsh environments. The USDA is pushing to give every cow in the U.S. its own unique RFID number.
The RF transponders don’t need to be visible to be read by a scanner. This allows them to be embedded into metal or plastics. The chips can be read from nine meters away. Tagged cargo inside of a truck does not need to be unloaded to be scanned with and RFID reader.
RFID chip data can be changed or added as a tag passes through a specific operations, however the tags have a unique serial number so there is no chance of duplication.
In warehousing, RFID allows for a real time view into areas that include:
- Inventory quantity
- Picking updates
- Identifying the special orders
- Factory returns
- Asset tracking
While RFID still plays second fiddle to the common barcode reader, the future of the technology appears good. Leading retailers, including Walmart, are finding a variety of ways to use the technology including for inventory and loss prevention. Major brands use RFID chips as well to protect their goods from counterfeiters.
UPCs and Barcodes
While an ordinary pallet might not have a RFID tag, it will certainly have plenty of individual items with barcodes. The barcode or UPC is a square made from vertical lines that can be read by an optical scanner called a barcode reader. Barcodes became universal once they were placed on supermarket packaging and helped automate the checking out process during the 1970s. Barcodes are just identifiers as opposed to RFID chips that can also store information.
Like RFID scanners, barcode readers transfer data to the WMS. What is convenient about barcodes is they are very common and low cost in comparison to RFID scanners. Unlike an RFID tag, barcodes need line-of-sight to be read.
Warehouses are always adopting new technologies to improve operations. RFID and barcodes save time and money by streamlining daily activities. Scanning technology, whether bar code or RFID, are popular with customers because it provides proof that a warehouse is accurate and efficient. While barcodes are more prevalent and lower cost, RFID chips are often used to keep track of more expensive assets. Despite some predictions it does not seem that barcodes will be replaced by RFID tags any time soon.