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Liverpool Achieves 100 Percent Case-Level Tagging

The Mexican department store chain is receiving RFID-tagged shipments from all 2,500 of its suppliers, and says it enjoys improved, streamlined order management and excellent inventory accuracy as a result.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
According to Ortega, employees at the DC break down each pallet of goods that arrives, using Motorola handheld readers to collect the SSCC encoded to each RFID label on every case or tote. Once each pallet is broken down, the software compares the serial numbers with those on the ASN, to ensure that each pallet is complete and carries the correct goods. The cases or totes are then placed on a conveyor belt, which moves them through a tunnel. A Motorola RFID interrogator linked to an antenna mounted in the tunnel captures the serial number encoded to the tag, after which robotic arms direct each case or tote to the packing area, where it can then be packed onto a pallet with other material bound for the same retail store. Liverpool worked with Spanish company Mecalux, which develops warehouse-automation systems, to link the RFID hardware to the programmable logic controllers that direct the cases on the conveyor belt.

Once the pallets are built up and ready to send to individual stores, forklift drivers move each pallet through a tunnel, around which a Motorola interrogator creates a read zone. This collects all of the case tags and associates them with their corresponding pallet tag as a final confirmation before the pallet is placed on a truck bound for the retail store.

Liverpool has been able to realize a number of benefits from having its suppliers add RFID tags to incoming shipments at the distribution center, Ortega says. The DC is now able to process receipt of 230 cases or totes per minute—up from 60 per minute using a bar-code scanner to identify each one. And by employing RFID to validate each shipment sent from the DC to Liverpool's stores, the percentage of wrongly shipped merchandise has fallen from 0.4 percent to 0.2 percent.

Additionally, Liverpool is working with 14 of its suppliers—including apparel company Levi Strauss—that are shipping products to the DC with RFID tags attached to individual garments or other items. At the DC, the RFID interrogators are able to read all of the item-level tags within the cases (as well as the tag attached to each case) when the cases are prepared for shipment to the retail stores. This, Ortega explains, ensures that shipments headed for the stores containing item-level-tagged merchandise are 100 percent accurate.

Inside the three Liverpool stores to which the item-level tagged merchandise is shipped, employees use handheld readers to perform monthly inventory counts. The goal is to reduce the occurrences of this merchandise falling out of stock on store shelves, as well as improve the accuracy of the store's inventory records. According to Ortega, preliminary information from the item-level tagging pilot has shown positive results, with 99 percent inventory accuracy for tagged merchandise. What's more, the company reports, using RFID to count inventory takes 89 percent less time than counting the items manually. As a result, the test stores perform monthly inventory counts of tagged items, while non-tagged items are counted only twice each year.

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