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ShelfAware RFID System Brings Visibility to Industrial Components

O-ring's newly patented system allows the supplier and its customers to track which components are onsite at any given time, via an RFID tag on each part, as well as readers at the storage area to identify when parts arrive at and leave the area.
By Claire Swedberg
May 17, 2017

O-ring Sales & Service, a Kansas City-based distributor of o-rings and specialized components, is offering its industrial manufacturer customers an RFID-based solution to manage their inventory at manufacturing sites. ShelfAware is designed to capture data about the receipt and consumption of parts, thereby ensuring that products are automatically reordered as needed, while also helping the manufacturer to understand its inventory levels and reduce them to minimally necessary levels. For manufacturers, the company reports, the technology can mean saving labor related to inventory management, as well as eliminating excess supply purchases, while ShelfAware has boosted O-ring's sales as customers see value in the service.

Thus far, two manufacturers have begun using the solution to manage hundreds of parts. Other distributors are now partnering with O-ring to use the ShelfAware system on their own products. The technology was devised and built in-house, says Andrew Johnson, O-ring's sales and service director, to help customers manage their tools without requiring physical visits from O-ring personnel to count and reorder supplies at customer sites.

Co-inventor Jon Hansen scans parts using the system.
In 2015, Johnson says, he began exploring a system that was easier for customers to use than bar-code scanning, and turned to radio frequency identification. He then tested ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology in-house, using a single printer, a reader and tags on products. The company designed its own software to manage the collected data. It filed for a patent, then approached customers with the idea.

O-ring's Andrew Johnson
In January 2016, manufacturer Eskridge installed the technology at its site where it manufactures gear drives, brakes, diggers and anchor drives. At the time, the Kansas City company purchased approximately 150 stock-keeping units (SKUs) of parts from O-ring. Eskridge has been growing, says Richard Griffin, the firm's senior supply coordinator; during the eight years in which he has held his position, sales have increased from about $15 million to $24 million annually. With the higher volume in assembly, the component orders have also been growing, which puts greater pressure on Griffin to order the parts. Although each is valued at only a few cents, he says, if any go out of stock when assembly is under way, the entire assembly process can be brought to a halt.

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