Utilizing VAS for RFID

By Doug Harvel

Value-added services make it easier for distribution centers to maintain separate inventories for different customers' tag requirements.

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Normally at a distribution center, value-added services (VAS) can create a huge bottleneck when it comes to getting goods shipped. It is where hangers are added or removed, where items are placed in polybags and then removed, and where additional labels are applied to meet customer requests. VAS also adds additional steps and time in completing orders. So how can this possibly be of benefit to distribution centers?

Some vendors know the pain of trying to maintain separate inventories of the same item for different customer’s RFID tag requirements. Think of having an item that you sell to multiple customers, a couple of which have very different requirements for what is printed on their RFID tags. Some would approach this problem by having the same item produced and the different RFID tags placed on the goods at the manufacturing level, then keeping them separate at the DC. This allows for easy separation of the products for the different customers.

However, the process can cause planning nightmares since the quantity of what one customer needs can increase, while for another it might decrease. This, then, becomes a huge juggling process to ensure you have enough of an item made, and it makes it more challenging to maintain proper inventory in your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for each customer. Even though most ERP systems can easily segregate inventory quantities of the same item for different customers, it is still a huge undertaking at the DC level.

The best approach to solving this huge inventory nightmare is utilizing the VAS area. I have achieved this with Manhattan Associates’ Warehouse Management for IBM (WMi) system and with a homegrown warehouse-management system (WMS) written in COBOL and C++. Now, when a carton for a given customer arrives in the VAS area, a VAS employee normally scans the UCC128 label and the system displays the different processes to be performed on the items within that carton. If we add the logic to also print all labels and any RFID tags required, we eliminate the need to keep inventory of the same item in two different ways.

With this newfound use of VAS to meet customer requirements, any DC can eliminate the need to have double inventory on hand. This also eliminates the risk of picking the wrong inventory. Each item would be tagged with an RFID tag, but with the wrong information printed on the tag, your business could still face chargebacks. Even if you have an inline tunnel to read the RFID tags, there is no way to verify what is printed on the label.

Doug Harvel is an RFID consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in manufacturing and distribution environments using  Manhattan Associates‘ WMS software, and 18 years of working with RFID. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this article, please feel free to contact him at  doug.harvel@gmail.com.