Unexpected Interruption? Get Your Supply Chain Back on Track with RFID

By Paul Baboian, Enterprise IoT Solutions Manager

Whether it be warehouse management or transportation management, Supply Chain Execution (SCE) applications make operational decisions every day and during every shift based on each operator’s physical inventory on-hand and in-transit, as well as through many other dynamic inputs. The more accurate and more timely the inputs, the better the execution.

But let’s face facts — while SCE apps are designed to automatically handle exceptions, a disruption or interruption requires special attention and intervention. In the past, interruptions occurred every few years. Now, it seems, the new norm is a few interruptions every year.

Regardless of the origin of operational disruption (a natural disaster, power outage, labor dispute, transportation-related delay/closure), it’s a big bump in the proverbial road that can jeopardize on time delivery and great client experiences, creating potential delays that negatively impact clients in unforeseen ways.

So, how can organizations be better prepared for these seemingly more frequent, unexpected interruptions? It starts with more accurate and more timely on-hand and in-transit inventory reporting!

Traditional Data Collection

From the Fortune 500 to a small-medium size company, ALL supply chain operations rely on manual entries for some of their inventory inputs. Most modern operators are entering some “in-process” data via mobile computers (handhelds, in-vehicle terminals) in conjunction with barcode scans and potentially voice recognition. Less sophisticated operators scribe data in-process via clipboards, which is then manually inputted into an excel spreadsheet for shift supervisor(s) and/or their “system of record” (Warehouse Mgt., Transportation Mgt., or ERP).

As much as we’d like to think we humans are perfect or near perfect, given the many distractions and pressure to “do more than before,” I’d argue we’re more prone to errors today.  One wrong count or data input per day, per worker, per shift adds up to a wide range of inaccurate “ripple effects” that can negatively impact your organization and clients.

Progressive Automatic Data Collection & Material Move Reporting – IoT/RFID

RFID and other IoT technologies provide accurate, real-time inventory inputs for SCE. Since multiple RFID tags can be read simultaneously and do not require line-of-site scanning, shipping, receiving and other material moves are automatically reported as loads pass by RFID readers. Further, manual cycle counts with RFID handhelds can be completed in a fraction of the time required for traditional data collection. By complementing RFID with GPS tracking of in-transit inventory, real-time locations provide further insight.

Enhanced inventory visibility throughout the chain enables SCE applications and operators to make better informed business decisions — no more waiting for end-of-shift or tomorrow-morning reports. For example, retailers have improved on-floor, RFID-tagged inventory accuracy from 65% to 95% and most of our manufacturing and warehousing clients have improved inventory accuracy to 95% or greater. Transporters are leveraging real-time data to optimize load space and real-time routing/re-routing. With RFID design and implementation expertise, IoT/RFID technologies can precisely report how many and where exactly a given product is located.

Operational Disruptions

Case in point: a national food and beverage distributor lost operations at one of its distribution centers (DC) that services 100 restaurants. Most restaurants relying on this DC received two deliveries per week. Unfortunately, the distributor didn’t expect this DC to be back at 100% capacity for 1-2 weeks.

The distributor had a contingency plan that included having three of its adjacent DCs service about 90 of the restaurants. Suppliers rerouted shipments to the three adjacent DCs. Overflow product had to be stacked in aisles and on reefer trailers to accommodate the extra inventory. Further, all loads from one of the DCs required a driver handoff due to DOT maximum driver hours of service.

In part due to their standard operating procedure of RFID tagging received pallet loads and outbound picked cartons, accurate location and counts of SKUs were known, which enabled each DC’s SCE application to orchestrate the flow of cross-docking and traditional receipts and shipments at each DC.

Additionally, knowing in real-time via GPS where each truckload was on the road provided guidance as to when driver handoffs would occur and ETAs for restaurant deliveries. By leveraging RFID tagging technology, this operator was able to maintain a high level of service to its restaurants in a time of need.

Interested in learning more about how IoT/RFID technology can enhance your supply chain visibility and enable operational efficiency?  Email me at paul.baboian@barcoding.com for a NO CHARGE consultation!