Global Rental Company Achieves Near-100 Percent Inventory Accuracy

An RFID solution from CoreRFID has given Lowe Rental visibility into 10,000 of its refrigeration and catering assets as the rental company expands its UHF technology use around the world.
Published: October 10, 2018

Inventory accuracy in the rental industry, especially for a global company offering high-value products, is as important as it is complex. Global company Lowe Rental has increased its efficiency and accuracy as it tracks more than 10,000 refrigeration assets into and out of its U.K. facility, located in Marchington, and at a growing number of its other locations around the world.

Since the system was launched, the company reports that it has achieved nearly 100 percent accuracy of inventory at the facilities where the technology is being used, and has reduced the amount of time required for inventory checks from a week to a matter of hours. During the past two years, the firm has expanded the system to help manage operations in Scotland, Germany, Northern Ireland and, most recently, in Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore. In the next few months, the solution is slated to be taken live in Atlanta and Las Vegas. The technology was provided by U.K.-based RFID solutions company CoreRFID.

Lowe Rental’s Ian Lowry

Lowe Rental is an international supplier of refrigeration and catering equipment for exhibitions, events and retail markets. Services also include cold rooms and temporary kitchen rental. Its supplies are used around the globe, including at events such as the British horse races at Royal Ascot and the Singapore Grand Prix. Its products are used in the world’s largest food and beverage exhibitions, as well as at some of the biggest retail stores worldwide. The business, headquartered in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, maintains offices across Europe and in Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Atlanta, Ga.

“In the rental business, it’s absolutely imperative that your stocks are accurate,” says Ian Lowry, Lowe Rental’s operations director. Traditionally, Lowry explains, the company managed its inventory by manually inputting the ID numbers printed on items that were received and shipped to customers, either in their own vehicles or by third-party carriers.

“This was very labor-intensive when you consider that we can have up to 10,000 assets” at the company’s headquarters at any given time, Lowry explains. If an expected item was not in a received shipment, staff members had to search manually for that product’s serial number within the facility. The process was time-consuming and error-prone, as serial numbers were sometimes missed or inaccurately recorded.

To resolve this issue, Lowe Rental designed software to manage inventory that could feed data directly to its Customer Relationship Management system, provided by Flowlens. It then began seeking technology that could accurately and automatically capture data for that system. “We needed to speed up the process,” Lowry states.

The company began speaking with CoreRFID about using passive UHF RFID to accomplish data capture, but it had some reservations. “We’d heard about RFID,” Lowry recalls, “but I wasn’t sure it would work in this environment,” based on the heavy traffic of assets through the facility and the large degree of metal present. However, testing determined that the technology could work well.

CoreRFID and Lowe chose Confidex‘s Ironside tags for tracking metal assets, and the firm’s Tough II tags for non-metal assets. According to Munzi Ali, the company’s technical director, the team tested handheld readers and opted to deploy Technology Solutions Ltd. (TSL)’s 1128 UHF RFID reader with a Bluetooth connection to an Android-based device, running an app from CoreRFID. The reader was selected as an alternative to UHF readers that required Wi-Fi communication to a back-end server, Ali says.

When a customer receives tagged items, workers use the handheld readers to capture the products’ tag ID numbers and link them with the order in the Android-based device. That data is then interpreted and forwarded to Lowe’s own software on its local server. Lowe’s software determines if any item is missing and can display a list of the missing products.

Employees, using the handheld’s Geiger counter function, can input the item they seek and then walk around the facility, reading tag IDs within about 2 meters (6.6 feet). The tags are also interrogated as items are packed on vans for delivery to rental customers, with each item linked with a particular customer and order.

A single fixed Impinj Speedway Revolution reader gantry is installed at the dock doors of its Marchington site as well. In this case, goods are moved through the gantry on forklifts or trolleys, in order to make the capture of tag IDs more automatic.

“For us,” Lowry says, “the big efficiency drive has been around stock-taking and accuracy of information,” and both requirements have been met. He says stock-taking, which previously took a week each year for an employee to accomplish, now only takes about two hours with a handheld reader. CoreRFID, which has undertaken installations with more than 1,000 companies worldwide for asset and production management, specializes in custom-designed solutions for uniquely challenging deployments, Ali says.