Most retailers take inventory once or twice a year, often closing the store and marshaling an army of employees with bar-code scanners. But those that have adopted RFID now take inventory weekly, daily or every morning and evening, because a few employees equipped with handheld readers can do the job more efficiently. The result—improved inventory accuracy and reduced out-of-stocks—has been very beneficial, but the process still takes sales associates' time away from other tasks, and it's possible for a handheld, with its relatively short read range, to miss some items. So, some retailers began to wonder, what if we had an RFID system that could automatically monitor a wide area of the store in real time, 24/7?
Impinj worked with a retailer to develop and test such a solution, says Tracy Hillstrom, senior manager for the company's reader product line. It's called the xArray. Install the reader in a ceiling, plug it into a Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) connection, and you'll always know not only which items are on the sales floor but also on which shelf they sit and whether they have been moved.
The xArray packs an Impinj Speedway Revolution 420 reader and an antenna array into a unit that measures 18 inches long and wide and 2.5 inches thick. When installed at a ceiling height of 15 feet, the device creates a circular read field 40 feet in diameter divided into eight sectors, with each sector subdivided into six read zones. Directly below the antenna is another read field comprising a circle 10 feet in diameter, divided into four overlapping oval-shaped read zones. The result: The xArray can read all the passive EPC Gen 2 tags within a 20-foot radius and discern in which of the 52 separate read zones each of those tags is located.
The retailer that worked with Impinj on this project installed one unit at the transition point between the store's back and front rooms, and mounted a second unit above the sales floor. "They said they could see better on-shelf availability and accuracy by using this product, rather than have someone use a handheld," Hillstrom says. "The store had what the customers were looking for, and you could see this uptick in revenue growth that in some cases could be 5 or 10 percent."
Since developing the system, Impinj says logistics companies have expressed interest in xArray's ability to monitor wide areas. "I talked with some of our customers that do a lot of LTL [less than truckload shipping]," Hillstrom says. "They want this kind of thing because at the end of the day, when a pallet moves from side A of their cross-dock facility to side B and makes it onto the wrong truck, it costs them a substantial amount of money to get that turned to the right place, and they've missed their commitments to their customer."
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