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RFID Smart Shelves and Cabinets

Smart fixtures help businesses store, organize and inventory an array of high-value items accurately and with only minimal human intervention. Here's what you need to know to choose the system that best fits your company's needs.
By John Edwards
Aug 24, 2009—Shelves and cabinets outfitted with radio frequency identification technology enable real-time, item-level tracking at an intermediate or final distribution point. These "smart fixtures" are helping retailers, discrete manufacturers, hospitals, and other kinds of companies and organizations control inventories and keep products in continuous stock by automatically tracking the arrival and distribution of individual assets. When you know the number and type of products that are on hand at any given moment, you can prevent over- and under-ordering, saving money and improving efficiencies.

Photographs from top left, clockwise: InnerSpace, Venture Research, Vue Technologoy and Mobile Aspects

There are several other reasons businesses are acquiring smart-fixture technology:

Quality control. Depending on the software, a smart-fixture system can track data beyond inventory levels, such as product expiration dates, batch numbers and origination points. This information can come in very handy if a product is ever recalled.

On-time and accurate delivery. The smart-fixture service model allows customers or employees to simply grab and take whichever asset they want whenever it's needed.

Enhanced process reliability. The removal of human intervention leads to fewer mistakes in product ordering and sales records.

Reduced shrinkage. Businesses and manufacturers can more easily spot product thefts and theft patterns. In fact, via wireless networking, smart fixtures can even communicate with other security devices—such as RFID interrogators located near point-of-sale (POS) systems and exits—to ensure that assets don't simply "walk away."

While industry advocates and visionaries have long predicted that smart fixtures would soon hold tagged razor blades, soaps, soft drinks and other everyday consumer products, the cost of RFID tags has so far made the tracking of low-priced assets impractical. For now and the foreseeable future, the tracking of high-value products—such as medical devices, pharmaceuticals, jewelry, electronic components and power tools—constitutes the base of the smart-fixtures market. Libraries, law firms, financial services organizations and other businesses that need to store rare books or important documents are also using smart shelves for real-time tracking, so they know if a high-value item is available and, if so, where it's located.
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