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RFID Zones Enable Automated Tracking Solution for Warehouse

Asset Recovery Specialists is monitoring the movements of hundreds of pieces of equipment in its San Diego warehouse with an RFID system that detects the zone in which tagged items were last detected, thereby increasing productivity by 30 percent.
By Claire Swedberg

When a customer order comes in, staff members use their Zebra handhelds to locate every item. They receive a pick list for the order and can open each item in the A2B tracking app to view the zone in which it is stored. That zone-based data is sufficient to ensure a warehouse worker spends mere minutes locating that item within a zone.

ARS has applied RFID tags to nearly every item already stored at its facility, Dillon reports, but it still has more tags to apply before the system will be fully live. Once that is done, as each tagged item is moved to the dock doors for shipping, its tag will be read via a handheld reader one last time to decommission it. The tag will then be removed from the item so it can be reused on a new piece of equipment. The system also works for goods stored outside the facility in trailers. Those products receive an RFID tag, and the handheld readers enable the company to assign each item to the trailer, as well as locate it, by opening the trailer and interrogating the tags inside.

If multiple components or pieces of equipment are part of a group, that information can be stored with the RFID tag ID in the A2B Tracking software. In that way, if an individual is taking one item to be sold to a customer, he or she can view in the handheld app, or in software on a desktop computer, that it should not be separated from other items in its group.

A successful RFID deployment requires customization for the needs and resources of the company using it, Layne says. ARS and A2B considered a variety of options for managing the inventory, including using handheld readers only. A real-time locating system (RTLS) was never considered due to the high cost of such a deployment. "Once we came up with zoning," he states, "we knew it would be a good match."

For ARS, the system may have already paid for itself by reducing the amount of time workers spend looking for goods for customers and inspectors. For instance, Dillon says, the company receives regular visits from bank auditors who need to view a random sampling of inventory, and the RFID system will make it simpler to provide a list of the items and their locations for those auditors. "I think we've already gotten our ROI [return on investment]," he says. Prior to the RFID deployment, Dillon adds, "We would have days with several guys looking for two hours for a piece of equipment. Now it can be done in minutes."

The system also works well for unexpected drop-ins that had been disruptive to warehouse work in the past, Dillon reports. "Sometimes, we get people saying 'I'm going to come in and buy a machine,'" he explains. "We'd have to drop everything to find it. Now we can literally find it in two minutes."

The next phase of the company's deployment will involve interrogating each tag as equipment is being loaded into vehicles, in order to update their status as shipped. That will enable the firm to address any customer claims regarding products not having been shipped, Dillon says, and will also make invoicing more automatic.

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