To remain competitive, every manufacturer and business must consistently improve operational efficiency. Today, this is being achieved through the adoption and support of modern technologies — namely, smarter, more connected, and more aware solutions.
What this looks like, exactly, differs from operation to operation. However, in the warehouse, one of the best ways to improve productivity, accuracy, and efficiency is with smart labels and RFID tags. This allows resources to be allocated to other, higher-profile tasks and also takes some of the stress off the workforce.
Let’s explore how and why that is achieved. Here are some of the most significant ways smart labels and RFID tags improve warehouse and operational efficiency.
Smart labels and RFID tags enable streamlined inventory management processes, from more accurate tracking to faster picking. Almost no manual tasks are necessary when packages are outfitted with smart systems, like RFID.
No direct line of sight is required to count or organize inventory, for example, and the information is updated in real-time. That makes it possible to see how much of an item is available, where it is, and even where said goods are going, with instant and on-demand access.
RFID tracking systems can improve inventory accuracy by up to 95% or more. What’s more, RFID readers can be positioned strategically throughout a warehouse to maximize tracking and order flows. As a result, leaders have more direct control over the operations of a warehouse and can fine-tune adjustments to deal with activities, events, and beyond.
Let’s think about the basic process of manual order picking for a moment. The customer’s order comes into the system, and the details are passed on to the warehouse team. A member of that team receives the order, confirms it, and then searches the warehouse for the related items.
After picking the items, they’re moved to the processing location, before they’re usually scanned out and then sent off to shipping parties.
In that process, there’s a lot that could go wrong, and any one of those stages could bottleneck the entire shipment. What if the employee has a tough time finding the item? What if the inventory count is wrong? What if they need to make special concessions to deal with the item, like if it’s too heavy for them to carry by hand and they need equipment?
RFID tags and smart labels can alleviate a lot of these problems through simple data. With a phone or tablet, a worker can see at a glance how much of an item is available, where it’s located within the warehouse — with step-by-step navigation — as well as other fine details like weight and size.
This is just one example, but the technology can be used to optimize workflows all across an operation, and not just within the walls of the warehouse. The entire supply chain can benefit from the adoption of smart labels and RFID tags. The NFL has already tapped into the benefits of RFID tags by outfitting every player with one.
Autonomous robots are taking over the average warehouse operation, and for good reason. They aren’t replacing human workers, but instead working alongside them to reduce strain, speed up processes, and provide direct support. Well over 50,000 warehouses may be using the technology by 2025.
Yet, autonomy wouldn’t be possible without real-time and contextual data. Smart labels and RFID tags are just one cog in the machine, so to speak, for acquiring the kind of necessary data and information. But they are a very important part of that equation.
Similar to how workers can quickly identify where an item is, robotics and automation systems can leverage the information to do the same. Imagine smart shelving units that sound an alert and move, on tracks, to a position closer to warehouse pickers. Or automated lifts that move heavy pallets around a factory or warehouse floor.
Fostering Creativity and Competition
One of the tried-and-true ways for manufacturers to stand out is to develop convenient and creative packaging solutions. Magnetic packaging is one of the standouts, since they’re intuitive for pickers to manipulate (as when picking from case packs) and come in some truly unique designs. Magnetic closures are also cost-effective, incredibly durable, and they help make packaging more accessible to customers.
But intuitive or not, creative packaging can be challenging to deal with in the conventional warehouse. In the past, there was no recourse for this, which unfortunately leads to more common packaging designs. Unorthodox designs might make an item harder to spot, for example, in a sea of inventory. It might also cause the goods to be located seemingly out of order because they don’t fit in a particular location or they’re not compatible with certain types of shelving.
Smart RFID tags and labels eliminate these problems. They do away with many manual process requirements, thanks to the real-time tracking solutions. It no longer matters where goods are located. Workers can find them and know all there is to know about them thanks to the smart tracking devices. What’s more, warehouses can be updated to support unique packaging solutions, with smart tags helping to keep track of what goes where.
Because of the benefits magnetic packaging offers, and other unique solutions as well, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Better Risk Management
Theft and fraud are major concerns for warehouse operations. Smarter and real-time tracking solutions help to mitigate a lot of the risk involved, by keeping eyes on the items or goods at all times. RFID tags can even include tamper tracking functionality that sends out alerts if and when an item is handled improperly, damaged, or otherwise.
They can be used as a tamper-proof or purity seal to help spot not just affected goods, but also to identify who and where certain events are taking place. Imagine being able to pinpoint where things are going wrong, whether that’s within the walls of a warehouse, or somewhere further down — or up — the supply chain.
A strong influx of operational and performance data, as well as real-time asset tracking, means safer operations and a better facility for workers. Through data collection and automation, every manual laborer can be clued-in to what’s happening on the factory or warehouse floor.
RFID tags and labels can be used to track equipment, tools, and other assets beyond products. This is two-fold, where those assets can be monitored or discovered at any time — allowing workers to find a nearby lift quickly, for instance. It also empowers awareness, allowing everyone to see where a piece of machinery is, or what it’s doing. Other workers can avoid the area thanks to audio or visual alerts, delivered via mobile devices.
Smart Labels and RFID Tags Will Change Warehouse Operations
It can be difficult to imagine that something so simple can have such a large impact on operations and productivity, but with smart labels and RFID tags that is indeed true. They enable so many possibilities, like smarter automation, real-time asset tracking, and improved risk management. They also empower digital and data-oriented operations, which is something nearly every business is moving toward if they haven’t already done so.
The warehouse of tomorrow is highly efficient, incredibly accurate, and generally safer than anything that’s come before.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly covers trends in the industrial sector.