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Fixing the Warehouse

With companies seeking to cut costs and wastes wherever they can, problems in the warehouse are getting more focus, and RFID can help.
By Mark Roberti
There are challenges with using RFID systems in warehouses. Active tags tend to be too expensive to put on every pallet and tote, let alone each case or item. The range of passive high-frequency and low-frequency tags tends to be too short to read tags on pallets on racks high up from the ground, or on units entering via a wide loading bay. And the metal racks in most warehouses play havoc with many ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) systems, making it difficult to associate a tagged pallet or tote with a tagged rack location.

But that's changing as RFID technology companies innovate to overcome these issues. In January 2009, M/A-COM Technology Solutions, a provider of microwave and RF products, introduced a new EPC Gen 2 RFID solution for forklifts that includes laser and acoustic sensors designed to help improve tag-read and accuracy rates (see M/A-COM Combines RFID and Sensors for Smarter Forklift).

I've heard some end users are experimenting with embedding tags in the floor, and are utilizing sensors that can determine the height of the forklift's arms. The idea is to put a tag in the floor in front of each rack location, and to use the height sensor to determine whether a pallet is being put on the ground, on the top shelf of the rack or somewhere in between. Software would associate the tag on the pallet with that in the floor, and determine which shelf the pallet is put on.

As the physics issues are resolved, companies will need to determine whether RFID can significantly reduce the time spent searching for items or empty locations, as well as the time spent scanning bar codes to identify items and bin locations. It seems pretty clear to me, based on the figures Jones provided, that RFID can have a significant impact on warehouse management.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.

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