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Manufacturer Uses RFID to Put a New Face on Cabinet-Making

American Woodmark tags and tracks doors to improve inventory accuracy, production and customer service.
By Samuel Greengard
Feb 07, 2016

American Woodmark manufactures and distributes kitchen cabinets and vanities for the remodeling and new home construction markets. The company manufactures cabinets under five major brands, and builds them to order in delivery sequence. It's a complex and demanding task that requires precise tracking of materials and orders—and visibility throughout the process—to avoid errors that can result in backorders and delays for customers.

During the past several years, "We have enjoyed increased sales, and we have added product lines to satisfy the latest trends in the marketplace," says David Johnson, American Woodmark's materials technology and project manager. "As the business has grown, we had to find a more sophisticated way to manage inventory and manufacturing processes."

An employee operates a mobile cycle-counting cart.
At the center of the challenge: American Woodmark needed to track cabinet doors and drawer fronts. The company offers more than 500 styles (more than 135,000 stock-keeping units). By design, they do not have any onboard identification, descriptive labels or bar codes. "Customers want a clean look on their doors and drawer fronts, not one cluttered with labels," Johnson explains.

Employees were identifying face components by sight for input into an enterprise resource planning system. "The learning curve was significant, the process was slow and the system was prone to errors," Johnson notes. It resulted in an error rate as high as 6 percent—which, in turn, led to inventory accuracy errors that had a negative impact on customer service.

To address this challenge, American Woodmark began deploying an enterprise RFID system in 2010, and it has continued to expand on the technology throughout the manufacturing process—investing significant time and resources along the way. The company now RFID-tags cabinet doors and drawer fronts at seven facilities, as well as at two U.S. and two international suppliers. The firm currently consumes 9 million RFID inlays annually, and as demand for cabinets increases, Johnson expects this number will continue to grow. In 2014, he says, "We hit the tipping point where the benefits and cost savings exceeded our outlay of resources."

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