Scouring a warehouse or yard for misplaced items is a lot like rummaging through your belongings, looking for your car keys with one hand while balancing two takeout coffees in the other. It’s a very clumsy and aggravating process.
So is manually chasing down the current locations of shipments and then having to follow up via phone or email with individual customers to convey status reports.
In our fast-paced world, every second is precious. No one should be spending prolonged periods of time searching for tangible items, especially given the number of “visibility technologies” that exist today.
Tracking Assets Has Always Been a Challenge – Now It’s Essential (and Becoming Much Easier)
If you look around, you’ll see radio frequency identification (RFID) technology used today to keep tabs on everything from car keys and toll payments to automotive parts, nuclear material, livestock and pallets full of food and medicine. No one can afford to lose sight of their valuables, and organizations can’t afford to lose control of their operations.
RFID can help prevent the logistical complications that create headaches in stock rooms, infiltrate the supply chain at every touchpoint, and lead to dangerous ramifications in the medical, pharmacological and law enforcement fields.
And while the visibility that RFID provides can help improve one’s bottom line, it can also help save lives. In fact, RFID dates back to World War II, where it was used by the British to help early radar system crews identify which planes belonged to the enemy and which were being flown by its own pilots returning from a mission.
In the decades since, the application of RFID technology in emergency services has expanded. As per Emergen Research, RFID is expected to generate a market revenue of up to USD12.89 billion in the healthcare market by 2027. This is primarily driven by a growing need to reduce expenditures, streamline processes, improve care and performance, and enhance the efficiency of the supply chain management.
The need for greater visibility and accountability is also motivating today’s aggressive innovation around real-time location systems (RTLS), many of which use RFID.
For example, hospital staff must be able to locate patient testing and treatment equipment such as drug infusion pumps within seconds, and IT teams mustbe able to track everything from mobile computers to server vault infrastructure in real time to eliminate the risk of theft, lossor breaches. This isn’t possible using barcodes alone.
Healthcare providers – along with manufacturers, warehouse operators, public safety agencies and even retailers – also need a reliable way to maintain accountability for assets throughout the supply chain. This includes prescription medications, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other items that are critical to public health.
At the same time, retailers have assumed a vital role in the distribution of non-medical essential goods that help to improve the overall well-being of communities.
However, it can be difficult to meet demand when both in-store and onlinecustomers are shopping from the same shelves and depleting inventory at a rapid rate. That may be part of the reason why Statista Research projects that the retail industry will become the largest RFID market by revenue by 2025.
Instant fulfillment expectations were already on the rise due to the “on-demand” economy. In a post-pandemic world where more people are shopping from home and contactless delivery is seen as a potentially life-saving solution, being able to quickly find a single item – whether in transit or at rest – has taken on new significance.
RFID Technology Can Expand Our Visibility and Improve Our Decision-Making in Many Different Ways
Regardless of industry, one question stands above the rest for most organizations right now: are we losing out on opportunities to increase production output, boost sales or improve operational outcomes because employees do not have visibility into stock or asset locations?
The growing need for around-the-clock asset management during the pandemic is a wake-up call for global supply chains, highlighting the necessity of technologies that provide visibility into every corner of operations, especially with many employees working remotely and collaborating virtually. The future of business optimization is in gathering detailed information about inventory, personnel, and the stage of progress for each task – essentially in real time – and RFID technology is the way forward for all of this.
Zebra Technologies’ 2019 Intelligent Enterprise Index found that 52% of global organizations were already using active RFID technology in some capacity. A further 34% intended to implement RFID in the next few years. Whether the pandemic has changed those plans is still to be determined. However, it seems as though RFID investments may actually have been accelerated in recent months.
In India, the application of RFID tags to enable GPS-based toll collection at the plazas has already helped the government to ensure seamless movement of vehicles across the country. According to an official statement by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), RFID-enabled FASTags contribute nearly three-fourths of the total toll collection.
Beyond that, I could see manufacturers, warehouse operators and transporters use RFID tags to protect against the accidental mishandling of hazardous materials. In hospitals and other healthcare facilities, RFID wristbands may be used to confirm patients’ locations and special RFID labels can be affixed to drug inventory to assist with administration control and stock management. RFID technology even has applications in sports for performance analysis and game strategy.
In other words: advanced technologies such as RFID make every asset – whether a person, piece of equipment or inventory part – more visible, connected and fully optimized across operations.
Will RFID Investments Payoff for Small Businesses?
When implemented strategically, RFID can be a tool for rapid growth across every industrial and consumer sector in this post-pandemic world. Though the return on investment (ROI) may vary depending on the application, there is much to be gained by investing in RFID regardless of your organization’s size. Customers’ expectations are the same for small business and large enterprises alike.
The creation of the on-demand economy over the last decade has led to a widespread belief that customers can get what they want and get it right now – even in the middle of a pandemic. Those who fall short of those expectations will struggle to retain customers.
Therefore, investments in RFID and other technologies that can provide real-time visibility are critical to improving operational readiness and responsiveness. The pandemic may be forcing organizations to optimize their operations, but it is also openinga realm of growth opportunities which can be realized with the help of RFID technology.
- Aik Jin, Tan, Vertical Solutions Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific