Executive Briefings

RFID Gets Real For High-value, High-tech Items



RFID, though highly valuable technology, was once considered out of reach for far too many companies. However, next-gen innovation, lower costs and better ROI has many reconsidering its application in products and shipments.

RFID (radio frequency identification) technology is finally coming of age. Once full of promise, then seen as limited due to implementation costs, RFID systems are having a renewed impact across industries because of improvements in design and function.

Today “passive” tags, which are scannable within 10 feet, are available for 25 cents, while “active” tags that emit a signal readable from 50-100 feet cost $10-$25. That’s opening the door to new applications.

The Value of Tracking High-Value Assets

At warehouses and distribution centers, today’s RFID proves its worth by reducing shrinkage (pilferage) and downtime, enhancing efficiency, safety and workflow, according to a recent report by DC Velocity.1 Already, manufacturers of computer hardware, printers, high-tech medical devices and other high-value items have begun embedding RFID into their products— not only for identification purposes, but to support other types of application, like inventory and service functions.

Active RFID serves as a real-time safety device to prevent worksite injuries at a raw materials supplier in Israel, according to Security Magazine2 . It finds tags being used in subzero temperatures at a research hospital in southwest England. And RFID-enabled baggage tags are making the term “lost luggage” anachronistic in Australia.

Many companies are accustomed to every year losing a significant portion of critical tools such as barcode scanners–which can cost between $1500 and $2000 each. RFID asset location solutions provided by companies such as Barcoding Inc., and Bluvision, among others, help companies keep tabs on tools, equipment, hardware and vehicles. The technology not only cuts replacement costs, but improves productivity and reduces downtime, since managers can be assured that each worker on each shift is equipped to do the essential work of receiving, picking, packing and putting away.

RFID Solutions Yield Positive ROI

While RFID has long made business sense in the big retail, pharma and manufacturing sectors, most mid-size companies found the tradeoff costs too great to justify the advantages. That’s changing. Many businesses now find significant value in the real-time data capabilities of not only passive and active tags, but also the newer, third option, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, notes DC Velocity.

Smart phones and other consumer devices that run iOS or Android can read BLE tags, explains Electronic Weekly3. Evolved from the retail beacons that beam coupons to passing shoppers, today’s robust BLE systems meet industrial requirements for shock, temperature, battery life and vibration. They require less infrastructure investment than earlier RFID because they communicate using common wireless mobile standards.

Targeting your RFID initiatives

For many midmarket companies, it makes sense to deploy the technology in targeted and strategic ways, for a limited range of functions. Some, however, may deploy RFID across their entire supply chain to provide end-to-end visibility, operational agility and improved efficiency. Either way, the advantages can be significant. Cybra reports that manufacturers and distributors who implement RFID have seen:

  • Up to 80 percent improvement in shipping/picking accuracy;
  • 90 percent improvement in receiving efficiency; and,
  • Inventory count rates increase from 200 to 12,000 items per hour.4

Those are benefits that can directly affect businesses’ bottom line. As Bala Ganesh, Senior Director of Marketing for the U.S. 2020 Team at UPS, says, “We have worked with omnichannel retailers who use RFID to improve inventory accuracy, enhancing consumer experience and reducing costs.”

RFID provides access control solutions at events and venues. It enables customer servicer modules in fitting rooms or rapid rental-car returns. But inventory discipline remains its primary business case, says RFID Talk Blog.5 Even in that context, the technology finds innovative applications:

  • RFID-enabled drones are already in use in warehouse settings for inventorying and yard management.6
  • In Canada, High Tech Fire & Safety uses Near Field Communication RFID technology to regularly monitor the NFC tags on the fire extinguishers, fire hoses and emergency lighting they provide as part of their life-safety equipment service offerings. 7
  • Trash and recycling bins with embedded RFID are distributed in many U.S. cities to cut collection costs and encourage recycling, notes Engadget. 8
  • BJC’s network of hospitals have inventory management tools like smart cabinets that monitor crucial stock and provide full visibility to exactly what needs to be replenished and when, according to The WSJ. 9
  • Logistics firms like UPS use RFID to support healthcare supply chains with integrated solutions that provide visibility, reliability, transparency and product protections for moving high-value, time-sensitive specimens. 10
  • Macy’s has adapted its RFID system to track single units to effectively turn its stores into distribution centers that serve consumers via any shopping channel they prefer: online, in store, over the phone or some combination of options. 11

The most sophisticated of new RFID tags offer more than precise location data. RFID tags that include sensors, microprocessors, software and batteries now range in cost from $100-$3000, depending on their function, reports RFID Insider.12 But their enhanced capabilities allow businesses to use them on large assets, such as trucks and intermodal containers, to gather data on mileage, dwell and in-transit times. The data feeds directly to a company’s computer system over Wi-Fi, mobile networks or satellite; analytics software can then identify inefficiencies or schedule maintenance.

“By applying technology in a way that provides consistent tracking and data from end to end,” explains John Menna, UPS VP of global strategy, healthcare logistics, “we increase transparency throughout the supply chain and proactively identify risks to product integrity.”
 
Each business needs to decide what questions to ask before choosing the RFID solution that suits its needs. Newly affordable, with greater versatility and advanced capabilities, RFID deserves a second (or third or fourth) look from companies that once concluded they cost too much and did too little.

RFID (radio frequency identification) technology is finally coming of age. Once full of promise, then seen as limited due to implementation costs, RFID systems are having a renewed impact across industries because of improvements in design and function.

Today “passive” tags, which are scannable within 10 feet, are available for 25 cents, while “active” tags that emit a signal readable from 50-100 feet cost $10-$25. That’s opening the door to new applications.

The Value of Tracking High-Value Assets

At warehouses and distribution centers, today’s RFID proves its worth by reducing shrinkage (pilferage) and downtime, enhancing efficiency, safety and workflow, according to a recent report by DC Velocity.1 Already, manufacturers of computer hardware, printers, high-tech medical devices and other high-value items have begun embedding RFID into their products— not only for identification purposes, but to support other types of application, like inventory and service functions.

Active RFID serves as a real-time safety device to prevent worksite injuries at a raw materials supplier in Israel, according to Security Magazine2 . It finds tags being used in subzero temperatures at a research hospital in southwest England. And RFID-enabled baggage tags are making the term “lost luggage” anachronistic in Australia.

Many companies are accustomed to every year losing a significant portion of critical tools such as barcode scanners–which can cost between $1500 and $2000 each. RFID asset location solutions provided by companies such as Barcoding Inc., and Bluvision, among others, help companies keep tabs on tools, equipment, hardware and vehicles. The technology not only cuts replacement costs, but improves productivity and reduces downtime, since managers can be assured that each worker on each shift is equipped to do the essential work of receiving, picking, packing and putting away.

RFID Solutions Yield Positive ROI

While RFID has long made business sense in the big retail, pharma and manufacturing sectors, most mid-size companies found the tradeoff costs too great to justify the advantages. That’s changing. Many businesses now find significant value in the real-time data capabilities of not only passive and active tags, but also the newer, third option, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, notes DC Velocity.

Smart phones and other consumer devices that run iOS or Android can read BLE tags, explains Electronic Weekly3. Evolved from the retail beacons that beam coupons to passing shoppers, today’s robust BLE systems meet industrial requirements for shock, temperature, battery life and vibration. They require less infrastructure investment than earlier RFID because they communicate using common wireless mobile standards.

Targeting your RFID initiatives

For many midmarket companies, it makes sense to deploy the technology in targeted and strategic ways, for a limited range of functions. Some, however, may deploy RFID across their entire supply chain to provide end-to-end visibility, operational agility and improved efficiency. Either way, the advantages can be significant. Cybra reports that manufacturers and distributors who implement RFID have seen:

  • Up to 80 percent improvement in shipping/picking accuracy;
  • 90 percent improvement in receiving efficiency; and,
  • Inventory count rates increase from 200 to 12,000 items per hour.4

Those are benefits that can directly affect businesses’ bottom line. As Bala Ganesh, Senior Director of Marketing for the U.S. 2020 Team at UPS, says, “We have worked with omnichannel retailers who use RFID to improve inventory accuracy, enhancing consumer experience and reducing costs.”

RFID provides access control solutions at events and venues. It enables customer servicer modules in fitting rooms or rapid rental-car returns. But inventory discipline remains its primary business case, says RFID Talk Blog.5 Even in that context, the technology finds innovative applications:

  • RFID-enabled drones are already in use in warehouse settings for inventorying and yard management.6
  • In Canada, High Tech Fire & Safety uses Near Field Communication RFID technology to regularly monitor the NFC tags on the fire extinguishers, fire hoses and emergency lighting they provide as part of their life-safety equipment service offerings. 7
  • Trash and recycling bins with embedded RFID are distributed in many U.S. cities to cut collection costs and encourage recycling, notes Engadget. 8
  • BJC’s network of hospitals have inventory management tools like smart cabinets that monitor crucial stock and provide full visibility to exactly what needs to be replenished and when, according to The WSJ. 9
  • Logistics firms like UPS use RFID to support healthcare supply chains with integrated solutions that provide visibility, reliability, transparency and product protections for moving high-value, time-sensitive specimens. 10
  • Macy’s has adapted its RFID system to track single units to effectively turn its stores into distribution centers that serve consumers via any shopping channel they prefer: online, in store, over the phone or some combination of options. 11

The most sophisticated of new RFID tags offer more than precise location data. RFID tags that include sensors, microprocessors, software and batteries now range in cost from $100-$3000, depending on their function, reports RFID Insider.12 But their enhanced capabilities allow businesses to use them on large assets, such as trucks and intermodal containers, to gather data on mileage, dwell and in-transit times. The data feeds directly to a company’s computer system over Wi-Fi, mobile networks or satellite; analytics software can then identify inefficiencies or schedule maintenance.

“By applying technology in a way that provides consistent tracking and data from end to end,” explains John Menna, UPS VP of global strategy, healthcare logistics, “we increase transparency throughout the supply chain and proactively identify risks to product integrity.”
 
Each business needs to decide what questions to ask before choosing the RFID solution that suits its needs. Newly affordable, with greater versatility and advanced capabilities, RFID deserves a second (or third or fourth) look from companies that once concluded they cost too much and did too little.

Discover how to use technology to get greater control over your supply chain. Learn how UPS can help you lower your global supply chain risk here.


[1] Ames, Ben, DC Velocity, “RFID Earns MVP Honors for Asset Tracking” (29 September 2016)  
[2] Zalud, Bill, Security Magazine, “Just How Versatile is RFID Technology” (1 August 2015)
[3] Middelman, Ton, Electronic Weekly, “The pros and cons of Bluetooth Low Energy” (10 October 2014)
[4] Cybra, “3 RFID Statistics Brand Owners Should Know” (2016)
[5] Johnson, John R., RFID Talk Blog “RFID: The Cure for Retail Omnichannel Failures” (18 January 2016)
[6] RFID-Enabled Drons Gain Popularity in Supply Chain Operations, RFID24-7 (26 September 2016) http://rfid24-7.com/2016/09/26/xx/
[7] High Tech Fire & Safety Manages Equipment Inspections via NFC, RFID Journal (14 October 2016) Page 1 http://www.rfidjournal.com/articles/view?15079
[8] Dacuan, Lyndon, Onvia, “Where Technology Meets Trash: Cities Issue Innovative Waste Management Projects” (12 August 2015)
[9] Chao, Loretta, The Wall Street Journal, “Hospitals Take High-Tech Approach to Supply Chain” (21 October 2015) 
[10] Menna, John, Longitudes, “The War on Cancer” (25 January 2016)
[11] Heller, Laura, FierceRetail “Macy’s Finds Omnichannel Success with RFID” (22 January 2016)
[12] Smiley, Suzanne, RFID Insider, “Sensor Monitoring with RFID” (31 March 2016)