The use of Radio Frequency (RF) technology is growing for contract warehousing, as well as for food-grade, HAZ-MAT and cold storage applications. Most commonly, RF technology is used today through the integration of a modern warehouse management system (WMS), wireless networking, bar codes and RF bar code scanners.
In a typical contract warehousing implementation of RF scanning, product is identified with bar codes on the shipping labels of pallets, and in many applications on each box, case or piece. Locations within the warehouse are identified with bar codes for each shelf, slot, bin and rack position. The RF scanners are used to read the bar codes and transfer product information, quantities and location information directly into the WMS via wireless networking.
During the receiving process, the product bar codes are scanned to match the shipment to the purchase order (or EDI data) and confirm that the item numbers and quantities on the PO match what was actually shipped.
During the put away process, the product bar codes are scanned and the WMS transmits information that is displayed on the scanner’s LCD screen showing item code, description and storage location for each item in a software-determined sequence that will minimize travel time during the put away process. When an item is placed in its correct shelf, slot, bin, or rack position, the user scans the bar code on the pallet, box, case or item and scans the bar code for that storage location. In this way, the WMS is updated on what items are in inventory, how much of each item is currently being stored and where that item is being stored in the warehouse.
Pick, Pack & Ship
When it’s time to pick an order, no pick tickets are needed. The WMS transmits the necessary information to the scanners used by the pick team. On their LCD screens will be displayed the order information including storage location, description, item code and quantity of each item to be picked. The WMS also determines the picking sequence of the items in the order to minimize picking time. The bar code of each picked item is scanned as is the bar code of the storage location it was picked from. When the pick is complete, the system can then generate a packing list containing the information on what was actually picked. If a ship-confirm step is used for verification, the bar codes for the order and for each picked item are scanned to check that the order was filled correctly.
Based on account-specific user-defined rules, the WMS software determines when counts are to be performed, as well as what items and location are to be counted. This information is transmitted to the cycle counting team’s RF scanners and displayed on the LCD screens. Counting involves scanning the bar codes for each item and scanning the bar code for the location where it is stored. This process is much faster and more accurate than using paper reports for cycle counting and updates the inventory data in the WMS in real-time.
The benefits of RF scanning for contract warehousing and other 3PL applications include improved accuracy and efficiency, reduced labor expense, improved real-time visibility to inventory and the ability to dramatically reduce the need for printed (or hand-written) paperwork within warehouse operations. While not totally paperless, the reduction in paperwork also reduces the amount of information needed to be keyed manually into the WMS from paper documents by contract warehousing personnel or by administrative support staff. This accounts for much of the increased productivity and reduced labor expense.
The roll-out of a RF Scanning implementation in the 3PL environment can typically begin in as little as a few weeks to a month, if you are working with a 3PL partner that has a strong IT department with experience in RF scanning implementations, an up-to-date WMS and some of the necessary building infrastructure already in place. Such systems can typically be customized on an account by account basis to fit the needs and requirements of the customer. Phased deployments are typically recommended in which receiving, shipping and inventory control transition to RF scanning one at a time in 2-3 week intervals. This allows for the necessary training for each team. Training typically includes in-class training for warehouse personnel, hands-on training on the warehouse floor, comprehensive training documentation and significant managerial commitment to monitor, coach and reinforce training as the new procedures are phased in.
FW Warehousing is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri with Midwest warehouse distribution centers in Kansas City, Indianapolis and St. Louis totaling more than four million square feet. Founded in 1949 with a focus on food-grade storage, FW later broadened its services to include contract warehousing, dry storage, hazardous material and chemical storage, temperature-controlled storage, product distribution and B2B and B2C fulfillment.
FW Warehousing has more than 50 years of experience in third-party 3PL logistics and has been ranked in the top 100 Third Party Logistic Companies in the country by Inbound Logistics magazine.