Magazine Article | August 1, 2005

Mobile RFID Readers: Don't Get Caught Standing Still

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Handheld RFID (radio frequency identification) readers combine the mobility of bar code scanners with the data collection advantages of RFID.

Integrated Solutions, August 2005

Sophisticated warehouse management systems, using real-time, bar code-based data collection over wireless networks, are now the norm in tier-one distribution operations, and have been for many years. These systems facilitate not only shipping and receiving, but other critical warehouse functions such as picking, put away, warehouse moves, and cross-docking as well. What makes these systems indispensable is the accuracy and velocity attainable only through highly mobile material handling equipment with automatic identification capabilities and wireless communications with the host computer. Yet most of the acknowledged EPC (electronic product code)-related supply chain RFID applications to date involve fixed or portal-based RFID reader solutions.

Mobile RFID readers, like bar code scanners, enable real-time data collection, allowing operators to accomplish traditional warehouse tasks faster, thus reducing labor costs. However, a mobile RFID solution can offer advantages over traditional bar coding, as the examples below illustrate.

Case Picking: A well-designed mobile reader can automatically scan both the location and case tags as operators build their pallets, allowing them to focus on moving inventory, not collecting data. Removing operators from the data collection/bar code scanning business simplifies and accelerates warehouse moves.

Quality Control: With a mobile RFID reader, you can validate in real time that the correct product in the correct quantity is being picked. If there is an error, the operator will be informed, and corrective action can be taken right there — where it is easiest and most cost-effective to correct. By validating the accuracy of the load as you progress, you speed up the process and eliminate the requirement for additional expensive, time-consuming, and often redundant quality control checks on the back end.

Shipping And Receiving: With a mobile RFID reader, you gain the shipping and receiving benefits often associated with a fixed reader — benefits that include faster, more accurate check-ins and shipment, and faster invoice settlement. Product information is auto-collected by the mobile RFID reader from the pallet tag, and location information is auto-scanned from a location tag placed in the dock door vicinity. This leads to another major benefit of a mobile RFID solution: cost. In a typical warehouse, you have approximately 100 dock doors that are serviced by as few as 10 to 20 forklifts. In the fixed RFID portal world you'd need 100 fixed RFID readers. In the mobile RFID world, you'd only need 10 to 20 mobile RFID readers — one for each forklift, which is a much more economical solution.

There are two key enablers of all these benefits. First, you need to tag your product as early as possible in the process. Second, you should use mobile RFID readers that are both tough enough for everyday warehouse use yet sophisticated enough to read only the tags you want.

So when planning your RFID strategies, don't get caught standing still. You won't see the returns you want on your RFID investment unless you bring RFID deep into your warehouse. And you can't do that unless you are mobile.

James S. Childress is president and general manager of LXE Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of EMS Technologies, Inc. LXE Inc. develops industrial wireless data collection and transaction processing solutions including rugged handheld and vehicle-mounted computers, advanced auto ID technologies, and wireless networking products for supply chain execution applications.