Magazine Article | September 21, 2007

Active RFID In DC Improves Retail Supply Chain Operations

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Integrated Solutions, October 2007

Dollies and roll cages are common reusable supply chain assets in any major retail operation, but tracking them in large quantities and over wide areas in a single location presents a challenge. While passive RFID (radio frequency identification) can be used to track outgoing inventory and assets through narrowly controlled portals, it often falls short when tracking assets over a wide area because of longer distances and other challenges in the environment. Active tags are sometimes sought out to solve these problems, but the price per tag can become prohibitive in large quantities. Enter battery-assisted passive RFID — a viable and cost-effective solution to the challenges of passive and active RFID.

In a 1-million-square-foot DC (distribution center), which is equivalent to over twenty football fields, it's easy to see how an asset such as a fully loaded dolly or an inventory roll cage can go missing. And when you have more than 20,000 of these assets, the cost of tracking them and the impact on operations can be enormous. As orders come in, dollies and roll cages are used in the pick and pack process. Once loaded, these assets are moved to the appropriate shipping zones to await delivery onto a truck at an outgoing dock door. However, many times, assets are misplaced during this process due to human error or a lack of space in a particular zone. When the truck finally arrives at the DC and is ready for loading, many assets are nowhere to be found, resulting in unexpected delays as operations personnel frantically search for the missing asset or a missed delivery to a retail location when the truck can no longer afford to wait.

To solve these problems, the retailer implemented battery-assisted passive RFID tags and readers from Intelleflex at this DC. With the solution, each asset can be automatically tracked over a wide area, thereby extending the capability of ordinary passive RFID.  In this case, one reader is used to cover four outgoing dock door zones, which are approximately 2,000 square feet each. Larger zones can also be covered, but to ensure more location granularity and a higher read rate in challenged environments, smaller zones are recommended. During the busy times, each of these zones may be packed shoulder to shoulder with fully loaded dollies and cages with inventory consisting of metal, liquid, plastics, or glass. In addition to dock door zones, other zones throughout the DC are also covered for locating stray assets.

With the active RFID infrastructure in place, assets that are not properly loaded onto a delivery truck can now be instantly located and quickly brought to the right zone for loading within the DC. This dramatically increases operational efficiency and reduces the time required to load trucks for just-in-time delivery to retail centers.