Should I use the technology to monitor fertilizer, seed and chemical distribution nationally? Could it fix my business processes?
It would be difficult to say, without knowing what problems currently exist for you, whether RFID would be able to help fix your business processes. But in general, you would want to tag all of the inputs at the source of manufacture, associating a unique ID number in a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID transponder with the specific item being tracked (a 50-pound bag of corn seed, for example, from lot number 23449, bagged on Aug. 28, 2015).
When an order comes in, the items are picked and assembled for shipment. You could use a handheld reader to interrogate all of the tags and ensure that the right items are present, then place a reader by the palletizer or shrink wrapper, or create a portal through which the pallet must be driven. The RFID system would match the tags against the order and ensure that no extra items were present, no items were missing and no wrong items had been picked.
The system would then send an advance shipping notice (ASN) to the entity receiving the shipment. Ideally, the receiving entity would have an RFID handheld to read all tags and match the serial numbers against those on the ASN. If the order matched perfectly, then billing would be notified automatically and an invoice would be generated. If there was a discrepancy, the driver would need to work out why (a tag might have fallen off a bag and not been read, for example).
This kind of an RFID system is easy to set up and has been used by many companies around the world, in different industries. The question is what the cost of the system would be versus the benefit. Among the cost reductions you would likely see are a decrease in warehouse labor needed to pick and verify shipments, a lowering of costs associated with fixing shipping errors, a reduction in claims that items were not shipped when they were supposed to be and possibly a decrease in lost or stolen items. If your product is subject to counterfeiting (as some seeds are), gray-market diversion and unauthorized reselling, then RFID can help with these issues, too.
The solution could offer additional benefits as well, such as enabling your company to better track shipments. Analyzing shipping data might enable better forecasting, planning and replenishment, leading to an increase in sales. If you would like to discuss this further, I am available for a free telephone consultation.
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal
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