RFID tracking systems have become a widely used technology for tracking and maintaining warehouse inventory. Around the world, businesses are using RFID systems to improve the operational performance of their warehouses, and many have found considerable success.
However, before making any substantial investment, such as a new RFID inventory tracking system, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of the technology as well as the pros and cons of each different option. Be aware of these six key factors when evaluating RFID systems, and your team will be better able to tackle the inevitable challenges and questions. And make sure electrical engineering aspects, such as your electrical control box, are operating properly.
1. Create Detailed Requirements Documentation with Input from All Relevant Stakeholders.
Requirements documentation helps guide an RFID purchase by providing a clear picture of what the RFID system needs to do. Proper requirements documentation for an RFID system should include clearly defined use cases and feature requirements from personnel in every role who will interact with the RFID system.
The language of requirements documentation should be direct, clear and as simple as it can be made without losing key concepts. Thorough requirements documentation will include:
- Business Requirements: Budget, time and infrastructure constraints, as well as high-level goals that your business wants to address. (More on this in a minute.)
- User Requirements: The processes that the RFID system should enable the end user to complete.
- Functional Requirements: The actual functions that the RFID system needs to perform.
Depending on the size of your organization and the complexity of the RFID solution you need, requirements documentation might be a 20-page report or a 200-page one. The most important thing is that the requirements documentation be thorough and objective.
2. Be Aware of the Macro Considerations That Will Guide Your Evaluation of RFID Products.
Let’s talk a little more about those high-level strategic goals and how to use them in evaluating RFID systems. There are dozens of different RFID systems on the market, and each one has something a little bit different to offer. When creating requirements documentation, don’t forget to also address the big-picture questions, such as:
- Which specific problems do you want your RFID system to address?
- Which RFID systems have been successfully implemented in other businesses similar to yours?
- Which band of RFID frequencies are suitable for your application?
- Is an active (battery-powered) or passive (non-powered) RFID system more suitable for your application?
- What kind of technical and training support does the RFID vendor need to provide?
By addressing these big picture questions from the start of the evaluation process, project management teams will be more able to filter out unsuitable RFID systems and identify the strongest options.
3. RFID Implementation Requires a Thorough Site Analysis.
Many businesses are surprised by the amount of different materials and technologies that can interfere with RFID systems. Depending on the specific frequency band that an RFID system uses, common materials such as metals and fluids can create severe interference with RFID signals.
Other wireless devices are a common culprit for RFID interference. Everything from Wi-Fi routers to a simple wireless mouse or keyboard can emit signals that may interfere with RFID systems. Depending on your system, you may be able to alleviate this problem by using a different type of electronics enclosure or redesigning your warehouse space, but it’s important to know from the outset that these needs will be present.
4. Think carefully about where RFID data will be stored.
When an RFID scanner scans a tag, the data collected must go somewhere. Many times, data is stored in a warehouse management system or ERP system. However, these systems require the ability to connect to a central database, so some businesses prefer systems that store all of the crucial data on the RFID tags themselves. These systems can speed things up a lot on the ground, but keep in mind that data stored in tags will eventually need to be reconciled with the central system.
It’s also important to ensure that RFID data is stored securely. While RFID warehouse tag systems haven’t traditionally been a major target for cybercriminals, that can change if you’re handling sensitive or high-value goods. In such cases, the vendor should be ready and willing to provide information on what kind of encryption and security they can provide.
5. Consider whether your RFID system can be integrated with your existing warehouse management or ERP software.
Some RFID systems don’t play nice with every kind of warehouse management or ERP software. This is a point to pay particular attention to if your warehouse uses older software, but it can be a problem for a system of any age. Ask an RFID vendor about whether their system will be compatible with the specific backend configuration that you use.
If your backend can’t support RFID, it’s worth asking whether it might be time to make a software upgrade as well. RFID is increasingly becoming a standard technology for supply chain management, and businesses that can’t use it may find it difficult to keep up with businesses that can.
6. Develop a testing plan for your RFID system well in advance of the rollout.
Rolling out a new RFID system requires careful planning, and testing is one especially crucial aspect of the rollout process. Your project management team should establish a testing plan and communicate it with stakeholders (especially ground-level warehouse personnel) well before the rollout begins. Benchmarks should be developed and cleared with all relevant personnel prior to beginning testing.
Testing plans should include multiple scenarios such as rush orders, seasonal ramp-ups and missing inventory. It’s essential to know how your system will behave under pressure because those are the times when your business will depend on it most.
Purchasing and implementing an RFID system can be a challenging task, particularly as RFID technology continues to evolve and create a new landscape for logistics technology. However, with sound project management and attention to detail, your business can succeed in this critical endeavor.