First things first, what is Auto ID?
Auto ID is a method of automatically identifying objects, collecting data about them, potentially interacting with them, and connecting them directly to computer systems. This is all completed (largely) without human involvement and through a wide range of technologies and methods including RFID, QR codes, barcodes, biometrics (iris & facial recognition systems, etc.) magnetic stripe, voice recognition and smart cards.
Ten years ago, the adoption of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology was still very much seen as an innovative but experimental leap for companies wanting to improve their supply chain operations – certainly when it came to the bulk reading of 000s of RFID tags using long-distance readers.
Before diving deeper into how RFID portals have matured, let’s take a look at what they are and why they hold such significance in various industries.
Definition of an RFID Portal
An RFID portal is usually an array of industrial RFID readers and antennas that are strategically placed in a gate-like arrangement to read RFID tags as they pass through it. These portals are typically found at critical control points like warehouse dock doors, entrances and exits of facilities, and even on retail store floors. The portal essentially forms a “gateway” where tagged items must pass through, allowing for automated, hands-free tracking of goods.
Fast forward to today, and the narrative has shifted dramatically. No longer a novelty, RFID portals have evolved to become an indispensable tool, especially at critical control points like warehouse dock doors. What’s most compelling is that the accuracy of these systems is now as close to 100% as can be expected, or indeed is required.
Then and Now: A Comparison
2010s: The Dawn of RFID Portals
A decade ago, RFID was a budding technology that had found its feet in a range of industries, but when it came to portals the technology was fraught with challenges:
Accuracy: Initial portal systems had accuracy rates hovering around 80-85%, which made them good, but ultimately unreliable for critical inventory management tasks.
Interference: Physical objects, other electronic devices, and even atmospheric conditions could easily interfere with signals, reducing efficiency.
Cost: Although the cost of RFID tags had fallen dramatically, the complex design of portals made them an expensive proposition for many businesses.
2020s: The Maturity of RFID Portals
Fast forward to today and the experience of system integrators, evolution in hardware, software, and data analytics capabilities has dramatically improved RFID technology:
Accuracy: Today’s systems boast almost 100% accuracy rates, making them reliable partners in any inventory management system. Where tags are missed, they are usually damaged or severely obstructed, which is a rarity.
Limited interference: Advances in hardware and filtering algorithms have made modern RFID systems much more resilient to physical and electronic interferences, allowing us to track more things that contain large proportions of liquid or metal.
Affordable: Economies of scale, coupled with technological advances and the constant reduction in processing costs have brought down costs significantly.
Proven ROI: Case Studies
Coriel has implemented incredibly reliable RFID portal technology at the companies central processing hubs, that read metal beer legs as they are being conveyed via fork-lift trucks. Coupled with in-cab computers, the drivers no longer have to leave their vehicles, which has saved 000s of hours in time and significantly improved safety on site.
Walmart has been at the forefront of using RFID technology for the last 20 years, and its advanced RFID portal systems at warehouse docks have significantly reduced “out of stock” instances, thereby enhancing customer satisfaction and revenue.
The aerospace giant uses RFID portals to track the billions of airplane components it deals with every year. The 99.9% accuracy they achieve using the technology has helped them reduce misplaced items by nearly 75%.
The fast-fashion retailer uses RFID at various points in its supply chain, including warehouse dock doors at their main distribution centres, to keep up with their fast-paced inventory needs. It has helped them to significantly reduce excess inventory and enhance store operations, with inventory accuracy increasing from 85% to 98.5%, stocking times dropped by around 50% and a 20% reduction in overstocks.
RFID portals have come a long way in the last decade. The technology has matured to the point where it offers near-perfect accuracy, making it an invaluable asset for modern supply chains. Companies that have invested in these advanced systems have not only improved operational efficiency but have also seen a significant return on investment. As RFID technology continues to evolve, it’s clear that we’re only scratching the surface of its full potential.
You can read more about how Close Brothers are leveraging RFID in their supply chain in this case study and look out for a new video case of their RFID portal in the coming weeks.