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July 21 2006 12:41 PM

The term Slap and Ship has become a catch-all phrase to describe the operational and technical method to meet current Wal-Mart mandates. But what is Slap and Ship, and how does it relate to near-term compliance objectives. More importantly, will it be valid for a complete rollout of RFID?
The term Slap and Ship describes the operational method of:
� Segmenting inventory by orders that need to be tagged with RFID.
� Staging them at an encoding workstation.
� If the order is pick to pallet, de-palletizing the already picked orders into singulated cartons that can be fed into manual or automated RFID tag encoding stations. If it is pick to belt, the material handling equipment can be retrofitted with a diverter to divert any orders that need to be tagged to the encoding station. Cross docking can use either of these methods.
� Encoding the tags with the EPC Global compliant SGTIN number for the SKU that represents the product either manually or with an encode and apply apparatus.
� Applying the encoded RFID tags to the cases in the correct position on the packaging to optimize readability (the Slap).
� When all cases of a pallet have been tagged, re-palletizing them on an outbound pallet. (Note: Single SKU pallets can be arbitrarily stacked; multi-SKU pallets must be re-palletized to match their original stacking layers.)
� Encoding a single pallet tag to represent the load using the EPC Global SSCC number. It is applied to the pallet on one of the cases of the pallet in a position that makes it still readable. 
� The load is optionally wrapped and then shipped (the Ship).
Where and When
Though the process seems straightforward, the introduction of the RFID readers and verifiers at the proper points is critical to insure the best chance that the tags will be read in further supply chain processes, most notably the receiving door of the retailer or trading partner.
Slap and Ship implies that there are no tags placed on any cases in the distribution center until they are needed at the last stage of the outbound process just prior to shipping. The reason why tag placement is deferred and this additional overhead is incurred is simply cost. Applying RFID tags on cases is currently an expensive proposition for the supplier. With tag costs running between 20� and 75�, it does not make economic sense yet to tag all the cases as an inbound operation or have them imbedded in the packaging material until at least 80% of the order volume is destined for retailers that are RFID-enabled.
Most distribution centers and 3PLs service a mix of customers and an inventory of SKUs that may or may not be required to be tagged. Wal-Mart, Target, Albertson�s and other retailers soon to be announced, seem like enough volume to warrant tagging of all the cases, but in reality, most pilot programs to verify RFID usage between trading partners is against selected stores and only for a negotiated set of SKUs. Volumes are anticipated to be relatively small until well after volume production of the Class 1 Gen 2 chip tag type (optimistically Q3, 2005). Suppliers are hesitant to commit in volume to current tags that may become �obsolete� in the near term. So the Slap and Ship methodology allows suppliers to start small and demonstrate best efforts to their trading partners that they can be compliant on selected SKUs. This is important because it allows the trading partners to test operational and technical changes that the organizations will have to bear as they introduce this technology into their business processes.
A question often asked: How does a Slap and Ship operation scale? With the understanding that the Slap and Ship method will be around for many years as the RFID market matures, a well-designed system will allow for incremental layering of automation to accommodate increases in volumes as more SKUs are taken on to be tagged. As a rule of thumb, a manual tagging station can service up to 10 cartons per minute (including the de-palletize and re-palletize operations). That yields approximately 4,800 cases per day. For many distribution centers, a manual station is sufficient to satisfy the demand associated with RFID tagged orders for the foreseeable future. Volume per tagging line can be improved by introducing an Encode and Apply machine to deliver volume up to 25 cartons per minute or approximately 12,000 cases per line per day.
Note that the equipment is an Encode and Apply, not a Print and Apply. There is no need to print on the tag, and label stock with embedded tags is generally more expensive than inlays on a roll. Printing also slows down the process and requires maintenance of a thermal head. Finally, for opportunities where single SKU pallets are to be tagged, an applicator with pre-encoded SGTIN tags can be used to yield up to 50 cartons per minute or 24,000 cartons per day per line. With the ability to scale, the Slap and Ship method will be the dominant operational strategy until tag prices are substantially cheaper or volume increases such that the majority of inbound inventory requires tagging, creating a new operational method called Receive and Slap.
John Baker is president of Venture Research Inc., a premier system integrator with expertise in RFID implementations and research on best practices for RFID compliance, located in Plano, Texas. You can contact him at 972-881-2622 or by visiting