I imagine that now the busy festive sales period is over there are a number of manufacturers and retailers trying to locate all the roll cages, tote bins, crates, kegs and pallets they used to deliver goods in the run up to Christmas. These reusable transport items, or RTIs as they’re known, cost a lot to buy and yet, all too often, companies have no real visibility of where exactly in their supply chain these assets are.
For many industries, a fleet of RTIs instead of single-use or disposable packaging can yield lower operating costs when measured in the ratio of number of trips per cost of package. Some heavily regulated sectors like pharmacy, food and hazardous materials dictate RTIs are used to ensure product safety. They’re arguably also more sustainable.
But managing a fleet of RTIs can prove time consuming and costly; shrinkage rates can range from 3-20%. The returnable assets get damaged, lost, stockpiled or simply cycled inefficiently. This often leads to over-purchasing of RTIs just to avoid downtime and shortfalls.
Smaller firms may be able to manage their RTI fleet manually but larger organisations will need an automated system. Barcodes do work but they require line of sight for scanning, they’re read-only, they can be quite easy to deface and they rely on the operator not missing the item or scanning it twice.
But radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, which had a bad press early on in its development largely due to costs, has matured and is now increasingly being used in managing RTIs. It is an affordable and efficient way to maximise the best value out of RTI inventories.
An RFID tag on each RTI makes it possible for it to be automatically and accurately tracked as it moves through its various in and out portals. And hundreds can be read simultaneously in seconds, with near 100% accuracy over distances from a few centimetres to more than 15 metres.
By automating the management of these mobile assets, all users can be held accountable for the units that pass through their facilities. This has the effect of curtailing shrinkage and other losses, optimising cycle times and ensuring RTI inventories are kept as lean as possible.
Zebra has more fixed, handheld and antenna RFID systems installed than any other RFID provider. Its solutions provide real-time visibility of your RTIs, enabling you to streamline your fleet and maximise the usage of your returnable assets.
They also provide error-proof data that enables you to make informed decisions. For instance, the wheels on roll cages can be prone to breakages and require repair. With an RFID system in place you could monitor which make of roll cage lasts longest and requires the least repairs. Such information translates into cost reduction and improving ROI.
I read recently that RFID enabled one supermarket chain to eliminate 10% of the roll cages it kept in reserve. Over time this enabled it to free up £3m in capital investment as well as save £210K in shrinkage.
RFID is the smart way to manage all kinds of assets, from lifejackets and luggage on aircraft to construction equipment on building sites. But it’s not suitable for all applications and will complement barcoding rather than replace it.
As RFID evolves I believe it will take an increasing role in industry 4.0 and logistics operations where there is little or no human involvement.
Author – Richard Gilliard – Renovotec Managing Director
Renovotec is the UK’s fastest growing provider of rugged mobile hardware; as well as delivering end to end managed & consultancy services, wireless networking, enterprise mobility, mobile data capture, printing and hardware rentals solutions. With over 25 years of industry experience, Renovotec supports customers across multiple industry verticals – including warehousing, transport & logistics, manufacturing and field mobility.