RFID is a tracking system that is drastically improving supply chain visibility. It is becoming a game-changer for many companies throughout each stage of the supply chain, drastically improving the traceability of products and automating operational processes. All of this, in turn, is having a positive impact on ensuring accurate data, reducing labor costs, increasing visibility, and setting high levels of accountability across all stages.

What Is RFID?

RFID stands for “radio frequency identification.” RFID is actually used across a lot of industries, and the technology has been around since World War II. The basic idea behind its conception in the 1940s was the ability to use radio frequency and radar to identify aircraft as “friends or foes.” From there the doors were open for this technology and its uses:

  • In the 1950s, advances served to create safer systems for coal mining operations and nuclear installations.
  • In the 1960s, Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) was developed for non-government purposes, expanding into the commercial realm.
  • The 1970s brought along the technology of the RFID tag and the ability to unlock doors without keys.
  • Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, the technology that was to become the toll gate control system was developed.
  • In the 1990s, IBM figured out the RFID Ultra High-Frequency system and set the stage for the technology we see in use today.

Today, a popular way RFID technology is used is through tags called “smart labels” and readers that store information about the product. Tags can be attached to a wide variety of goods and products to track their status through a larger system, like supply chain management software. It is a wireless tracking system based on three parts: a radio transponder, a radio receiver, and a transmitter. Because of its use of radio frequencies, RFID transmissions can be used across low-frequency, high-frequency, and ultra-high-frequency channels. Each level of frequency involves its own set of ranges, cost per tag, and preferred applications. For example, low-frequency RFID tags are typically seen in animal tracking and situations where there are high volumes of liquids and/or metals. High-frequency RFID tags, on the other hand, are used for items like DVDs in self-service kiosks and personal ID cards for security authorization and access. Ultra-high-frequency channels are what you will typically see with supply chain management systems, auto manufacturing, mining, and even construction. There are actually two types of ultra-high-frequency ranges: active RFID and passive RFID. Active RFID tags have a battery-powered antenna embedded in them that constantly is on (active) and sending information over the radio waves to be tracked. This means an active RFID system can provide information in real-time without any prompts or pauses. Active RFID tags are sometimes called “beacons” as they send out information to notify the tracking system. Automated toll collection setups are just one example of common use for active RFID tags. Passive RFID tags have no independent power source. Instead of constantly sending out a signal, a passive RFID tag needs to wait for a reader. Once the reader transmits a signal to the tag, data from that product can be transmitted and captured. Passive RFID tags are often cheaper than active RFID tags, and although they do not give constant real-time information, they are more than sufficient for most supply chain analytics and tracking needs.

How Does RFID Work with Supply Chain Management?

The Oxford Dictionary defines a supply chain as “the sequence of processes involved in the production and distribution of a commodity.” RFID technology is used across many industries that rely on this supply chain network and it is a critical component of their day-to-day operations. RFID works to track items across a wide range of goods and products:

  • Retail items
  • Medical supplies
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Vehicles
  • Pets and livestock
  • Food and beverages

It is used from initial storage to loading and transport to final delivery and all stages in between. Amazon is just one of the major companies that utilize RFID technology to not only track its goods and products at the warehouse stage but throughout the packaging, shipping, and delivery stages as well. Using the tags described above, the RFID system is activated through the radio wave signals. Once a tag (transponder) has been activated, the reader (transmitter antennas) communicates back through the receiver, and the tagged item’s presence is translated into readable data. These smart tags communicate through this network to track every product. Think of RFID technology as the bar code system on steroids. In supply chain operations, shipping monitoring devices can help logistics service providers and individual companies like shipping services see where products are every step of the way. When we say “every step of the way,” this can mean from the manufacturer, through the storage facility, onto a shipping container (depending on the distribution process), during transport, off of a shipping container upon delivery to the port of origin. From there, it can be tracked through any additional transportation processes like truck loading, in transit, and final delivery to the end retailer or even consumer shipping address. Depending on the supply chain process in place, these steps might be more or less involved, but RFID still provides critical insight and real-time status updates for goods and products in progress from point A to point B. There is a common saying that “it’s hard to manage what you can’t see.” Including RFID into the larger supply chain process adds a critical level of visibility not just at the beginning and the end, but throughout the entire process.

Additional Benefits of RFID

Through the use of RFID in supply chain management, asset and inventory management becomes automatic and streamlined. Advancements in this technology are continually improving the way supply chain leaders and facilities operate, maximizing delivery time, lowering operating costs, and ensuring high-quality and safely stored and maintained products. RFID technology has even allowed companies to track the condition of a product or package in progress. This has added an even more in-depth level of accountability and greatly reduces the risk of damaged products and negligent logistics and poor handling practices.

How SpotSee Can Help

Monitoring packages in transit or in storage using SpotSee’s products can reduce damage by 40-60%. This means fewer repairs, delays, and claim filings. What it gives you, though, is a better reputation. Using the ShockWatch® RFID and TiltWatch® RFID means it’s nearly impossible for damaged items to get through the supply chain without notice. Both of these products combine the simplicity of single use indicators with the electronic records provided by RFID.  The ShockWatch RFID and TiltWatch RFID tags are field armable, tamperproof, and turn red when an impact beyond a specific impact g-force threshold or unacceptable tilt has occurred.  With both an RFID and visual alert, these products fit into any supply chain with the goal of damage reduction. For more information on RFID tags and other SpotSee products, contact their sales team today.