Five Promising Uses for RFID in Warehouses

By Megan R. Nichols

There are plenty of reasons to deploy the technology, and the payoffs are often substantial.


Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are an option frequently used for tracking goods. Many wildlife experts even employ them to track animals, such as analyzing creatures’ migration patterns or locating lost members of a herd. Some of the most popular ways to implement RFID tags relate to warehouses. Here are five ways in which RFID warehouse-management solutions help companies succeed:

Giving More Visibility Into Operations
Some business leaders seek to achieve better overall transparency regarding what happens within their warehouses, and their aspirations span far beyond tracking items. They often combine RFID technology with other warehouse-management tools.

Such was the case at  American Nuts. Company representatives wanted to achieve better inventory accuracy, as well as digitize all aspects of operations, ranging from quality control to production scheduling. The brand’s decision-makers ended up going with an enterprise resource control (ERC) tool with RFID capabilities, which it used to supplement its existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) product.

After having the technology installed, the company’s leaders  expected a 25 percent decrease in inventory, which would minimize product obsolescence and carrying costs. They also predicted a 3 to 5 percent improvement in contribution margins due to more accurate lot-cost figures. This example shows that people should not assume they must get rid of other technologies in order to adopt RFID. Many products work with existing infrastructure.

Enhancing Product Tracking from Source to Destination
Retailers know staying profitable requires getting to the bottom of errors that result in lost or late-arriving items. Thus, many of them use RFID tracking to trace products from their sources to their destinations.

Many products are available to  prevent human errors and mishandling at the factory level. These provide visibility throughout the entire supply chain, and they help with specific responsibilities, such as box unpacking and auditing. Users can retrieve full product histories and observe how items moved between destinations. That extra information could then help them determine the cause of any quality breakdowns that might occur.

Additionally, the ability to see the full scope of a product’s movements helps warehouse managers highlight where to invest in such things as employee education. For example, if an RFID system indicated that a specific person or single department made the most mistakes leading to delays, that evidence could be enough to spur a company to act.

Improving Traffic Flow in the Warehouse
Warehouses are not merely places to store goods. Most feature ongoing activity as workers move merchandise and bring it to the right areas. An ideal warehouse layout  encourages safe navigation and handling of materials. Conversely, a poorly designed layout could cause accidents and delays. RFID tags can also help warehouse managers identify how to enhance traffic flow and pinpoint problematic areas.

A recently released product called the Flow Ranger reads tags in densely packed environments, and it uses algorithms to identify  the direction of people and goods as they move through an area. RFID warehouse solutions such as this one could show which areas of the facility have the most traffic, both overall and at certain times. Managers could then rely on that data to figure out how to improve those potentially problematic areas.

PervasID, which makes the Flow Ranger, says use cases span into other areas as well, such as stopping shrinkage at a retail facility, since its design reduces body shielding that can interfere with the prompt and accurate reading of tagged items.

Tracking Perishable Inventory
Warehouse managers want to see the correct details about all types of products. However, it’s arguably most vital to get this information for perishable goods, such as frozen foods or temperature-sensitive medicines. Some companies combine RFID warehouse solutions with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) products to confirm the locations of perishable goods.For example, an employee might use an RFID interface to generate a map showing the  real-time location of all products in a warehouse that must stay within a particular temperature range.

In addition, there may be IIoT sensors integrated into the refrigerators that store those products. They could detect if a cooled compartment rose above its usual temperature, which could suggest a possible malfunction. IIoT products could also emit warnings if someone were to not shut a refrigerator fully after taking products from it. Such alerts could safeguard companies from preventable losses. Additionally, they could help to prove that if any products reached their destinations in a non-sellable condition, the problem hadn’t started at the warehouse level.

Similar to how RFID products may integrate with ERC and ERP tools, they can also support connected technologies that a company uses now or may invest in soon. Companies could then get more from their technological infrastructure by availing of the advantages brought about by combined resources.

Reducing Equipment-Related Risks
Many RFID-based warehouse-management solutions track how people and things move throughout a facility. Some also ensure that unauthorized individuals do not use potentially dangerous equipment. For example, a person could have an identification card or a fob that doubles as an RFID identifier. It could verify that the  individual has the right to use a piece of equipment, such as a forklift. Moreover, the system could tell managers the precise time the person operated that machinery.

Depending on RFID to reduce equipment-related risk can prevent companies from dealing with the hassles of physical keys, which workers could lose or leave in a vehicle. Problems can also arise if equipment has numerous authorized users but not as many physical keys. In such a scenario, workers often pass keys back and forth, which increases the chance of them being lost or of someone becoming delayed while tracking down the person who has them.

RFID Warehouse Solutions Are on the Rise
These five examples show that warehouse managers have plenty of reasons to strongly consider bringing RFID into their facilities. Figuring out the best ways to implement the technology takes time and thought, but the payoffs are often substantial.

Megan R. Nichols is a STEM writer who contributes to sites like Sensors Online and EPS News. Megan has also published  easy-to-understand manufacturing and engineering articles on her personal blog, Schooled By Science. Keep up with Megan by following her on  Twitter.