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Asset Management Barcode RFID Hardware

Which Asset Tracking Technology Is Best for Your Business?

There is a confusing array of asset tracking technology options available — barcode labels, RFID tags, Bluetooth beacons, and more. Determining which one is best for your application can be a challenge. The type of asset tracking technology you need will depend on what you need to track, how many assets you have to manage, your budget, and your existing technology infrastructure. Here is a list of some of the more common asset tracking technology systems available, as well as their costs and ease of implementation.

Part of the key to determining which technology is best is the amount of information needed.  Usually, assets are tracked by “asset number” which is specific to each asset, rather than part number.  Gathering that information (data capture) and organizing that data (database structure and analytics) provide the basis for the technology chosen.

Barcodes

There a wide variety of barcode symbologies available. Two-dimensional codes (2D codes) that can hold much more data than traditional codes have grown in popularity because they are relatively small, can provide asset data even if the scanner is not connected to a database, and can be permanently marked or etched on items ranging from engine turbines to surgical scalpels. Benefits of these systems include improved accuracy, ease of use, and the relatively low cost involved in labeling assets.

Cost:The cost of barcode labels is very low compared to other tracking technologies. Companies still need to invest in asset management software, barcode scanning hardware, and either label printers or contract with a third-party label provider. How large an investment that entails will depend on the scope of the implementation. A few dozen barcode scanners may cost only a few thousand dollars; several hundred is an exponentially larger investment, particularly if you have to buy specialized hardware that is rugged enough to withstand harsh environmental conditions.

Ease of Implementation:A barcode system will require manual labeling of all assets, which can be arduous for large asset fleets. Otherwise, barcodes are fairly unobtrusive and can be scanned with mobile devices, fixed scanners, or even smartphones.

RFID

RFID uses either passive or active tags to wireless track items in real time. RFID does not require line of sight, so tags can be read in any configuration. Also, many tags can be read simultaneously. This can be handy for applications such as scanning an entire rack of servers to manage IT assets, or scanning an entire van-load of tools. Unlike barcodes, the data on the RFID tag can be rewritten at the point of activity, so the information can be altered to reflect maintenance updates or other data.

Cost:Relatively low-cost passive tags can be used for an in-building or campus application. Of course, RFID tags, their readers and printers are more expensive than simple barcode equipment. For more widespread applications (such as tracking tractor trailers or cargo containers), longer-range active tags costing hundreds of dollars each might be required. However, those types of tags are often used on very expensive assets, so the cost of the tag isn’t an impediment given the potential benefits of the asset tracking technology.  Also, RFID infrastructure can be a significant expense, especially if many fixed RFID portals are required throughout a large location.

Ease of Implementation: RFID tags are susceptible to interference from metal, liquids, and other materials, so you’ll need to work with a vendor, integrator or VAR to select the right tag for your assets. The reader infrastructure also has to be carefully placed, so integration is more complex.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

BLE is a beacon technology that periodically broadcasts a signal to other surrounding BLE equipment. The beacons can run for years with very small batteries. They offer a high data transfer rate and are one of the least expensive options for real-time location tracking, though are more expensive tags than barcode or even passive RFID. They have a read range of 1 meter to 70 meters, and usually don’t require line of sight. The real value to the BLE beacons is what information may also be provided besides the “asset number”.  The Smart Tag BLE Beacons can also monitor vibration, shock, temperature, humidity and other environmental values.  They can also store information to provide a history of changes in the environment.

Cost:BLE is a more affordable option for active tracking applications in that you can avoid buying expensive RFID readers and use any Bluetooth enabled device to read the beacon — even a smartphone.

Ease of Implementation:BLE beacons are relatively easy to deploy, and rollouts can be done in phases. Since they don’t generally require a reader infrastructure, implementations are less complex. However, users still need to consider wireless interference, read range, and battery life when designing the solution.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT encompasses some of the other technologies mentioned above, like RFID and beacons, and combines that with onboard intelligence and sensor data. The IoT allows companies to track not only the location of a device, but also conditions — temperature, vibration, etc. Intelligent devices can also communicate usage information or fault codes, for example. For remote monitoring and maintenance applications, the IoT can provide real-time performance information that enables proactive maintenance and service.

Cost:IoT functionality is generally purpose-built into the asset rather than added later. The cost would be borne by the manufacturer.

Ease of Implementation:Users will require a way to access the data from the connected devices, and a software infrastructure (often cloud-based) to manage the influx of data from these systems.

Choose the Asset Tracking Technology That’s the Best Fit

The asset tracking solution universe continues to expand. The best asset tracking technology option for your company will depend on your business needs. Conduct a thorough analysis of what you want to accomplish with your asset management program, and match the technology to your requirements.

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Mobility RFID Hardware Transportation and Logistics

The Top 5 Supply Chain Trends of the Future

Supply chain technology is constantly (and rapidly) evolving. This can make it difficult to keep up with emerging supply chain trends and identify which ones might actually have a significant impact on your business.

While it can be easy to get inundated with too much information or distracted by the latest flavor-of-the-month tech trend, there are some new and existing technologies that are expanding their presence in supply chain operations. These five top supply chain trends could help you improve your operations in the near future:

Voice

Voice-based picking solutions have been available for decades, but recent improvements in hardware and voice/speech recognition technology have made these systems much more attractive — even to smaller warehouse operations. With voice-based picking solutions, employees carry small mobile computers attached to headsets that are used to both deliver audio directions and accept verbal input (i.e., reading location numbers or item numbers) from workers.

Like the other supply chain trends we’ve identified, voice-enabled picking systems can provide a number of benefits. Because the solutions are both hands-free and eyes-free, employees are able to complete tasks more quickly (which increases productivity). Voice confirmations result in greater accuracy than is possible with pick-to-light or paper-based systems. Because their eyes aren’t on a mobile computer screen or paper pick lists, employees can also complete their work more safely.

Heads-Up Displays (HUD)

Heads-up displays are related to voice picking in that they are a component of wearable computer solutions. Wearables have been around for a while, but falling costs and the media attention given to display systems like Google Glass have increased interest in these solutions.

Using a set of glasses or goggles, users can see digital information displayed in front of their eyes while they are working. Instead of hearing a voice command, which at times can be limited, or looking at a wrist-mounted display or truck-mounted display, they can see everything right in front of them, hands free without needing to be at a specific location. This can be especially helpful when planning the route to the next location in a busy warehouse or identifying a part with a visual instead of just the part number and/or barcode. HUD isn’t unique to a list of supply chain trends: These types of systems are also used in augmented reality (AR) systems that can overlay digital information (like measurements or repair information) on the object or area the user is looking at.

Location-Based Services (LBS)

The LBS applications most people are familiar with right now are based on GPS navigation on the road, but that is about to change. Device costs are falling, GPS is more widely available in mobile computers and consumer smartphones, the solutions are more mature, and there are open-source mapping technologies available. This will affect the supply chain in a number of ways.

– First, it will be even easier to track shipments at both the truck and pallet level, in addition to tracking employees and company assets.
– Second, for companies that engage in e-commerce, consumer purchases made via mobile phones and other devices will provide location insight that wasn’t possible before. Companies will be able to track geographic demand trends and help fulfill purchases using locally available inventory.

Now, with RFID and other IoT technology pairing with GPS, systems can track locations of critical assets and people with much greater accuracy and determine real-time movement.

RFID/IoT

RFID has been the next big thing in supply chain trends for a long time, but the technology’s integration with Internet of Things (IoT) functionality may help increase adoption. RFID allows identification of a specific item, somewhat like a serial number or license plate to identify each item.  However, smart tags can also track temperature, movement, barometric pressure and even shock and vibration.

Using RFID, wireless sensors, cloud connectivity, and other technology, connected devices/assets can provide much greater supply chain visibility of everything from inventory levels to temperatures to more accurate shipment arrival time estimates based on in-transit visibility. This can be critical for assuring safe handling of food and potentially hazardous substances.

In a world where returnable assets, vehicles, and products are increasingly connected, it will be possible to improve inventory management, fleet management, driver safety, and supply chain responsiveness. Reorder requests could be automatically generated from a manufacturing plant or a warehouse without human intervention. Shippers could intervene more quickly if a load of produce is in danger of exceeding the required storage temperature. Third party logistics providers could more quickly redeploy idle trucks or trailers to improve service.

Space Optimization

Warehouse and truck space is often managed via ad-hoc and reactionary processes. Goods are placed wherever it looks like they’ll fit, which doesn’t necessarily make it easier to find, pack, or deliver them. Space optimization technology will change that. Using advanced dimensioning scanners and measurement data, companies will be able to optimize placement and storage of goods in their warehouses and in their trucks.

New solutions are even available that can help employees more effectively pack goods down to the box level. These systems will improve efficiency and help reduce packaging waste for shippers.  And, of course, smaller packaging can cost less to ship, at the box, truck or shipping container level.

Companies increasingly compete on the effectiveness and efficiency of their supply chain operations. Whoever can get the package there first at the lowest cost will win. Staying up-to-speed on these supply chain trends will help your company remain competitive now and in the future.

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Barcode Custom Application Development Field Sales and Delivery RFID Hardware RFID Software Transportation and Logistics

High-Value Asset Management: The Best Methods for Tracking Your Equipment

Asset management is a challenge even when those assets are relatively static. For companies that utilize highly mobile and expensive assets (such as large trucks, shipping containers, expensive tools, etc.) the challenge is even greater. Assets and equipment are often deployed in the field for long stretches of time with little visibility. This makes it difficult to optimize asset utilization and also raises the risk of theft or loss.

There are a number of automatic identification technologies that can help provide real-time asset management capabilities in the field, but which type of technology is best will depend on the application and the environment.

Challenging Assets

Each industry has its own unique set of field assets and accompanying challenges:

Transportation/Logistics. Companies that manage large fleets of trucks, trailers, returnable shipping containers, and other equipment often lack visibility into exactly where these items are. This is especially true for containers or trailers that are dropped in customer yards. This makes it difficult to see how many are in circulation and where they are located. If there are dynamic changes in demand, it can be difficult to shift that supply, so companies purchase unnecessary containers to compensate.

Field Service. In addition to expensive vehicles, field service companies manage large inventories of expensive tools and other equipment that is stored on each technician’s truck. Technicians may need access to equipment held on another truck or at a depot, but that can be difficult to locate without proper asset management in place. In addition, equipment is vulnerable to loss or theft.

Delivery. Delivery companies often utilize reusable trays, crates, pallets and other containers that represent a significant capital investment. Being able to manage and optimize utilization of these assets can save money and streamline delivery operations. Customers sometimes steal or hoard these assets as well.

Healthcare. Mobile healthcare is a growing market. Workers in this space manage expensive assets and medical equipment (oxygen tanks, blood pressure monitors, infusion pumps, etc.) that must be returned and, in some cases, sterilized. Better asset management can improve patient safety and make it easier for employees to find critical equipment.

Real-Time Tracking Solutions

Automated solutions for asset management can help provide visibility in real time, but each approach offers different benefits (and potential drawbacks).

Barcodes. This is easily the least expensive way to manage field assets. This is a simple way to address tool or mobile asset tracking, for example, in field service or healthcare. Using mobile barcode readers, employees can simply scan a label to update asset status. However, this requires line of sight to complete the scan, and if a large number of items is involved it can be time consuming.

Passive RFID. Passive RFID can be used to automatically track assets in a facility or as they enter or leave the rear of a truck or pass through a dock door. Attached to returnable trays or containers, RFID can also help track inventory as it moves on and off delivery trucks and even track which customers received which containers. RFID is slightly more expensive than barcodes, but passive tags are a cost-effective method of tracking returnable items.

Active RFID. This type of RFID is more expensive. Often the tags are large and are attached to very expensive assets such as shipping containers or trailers. They have a longer range and can be integrated with other technology, like sensors or GPS, to provide real-time location data on items that are in motion.

Bluetooth Beacons. These systems are similar to active RFID, but are more commonly used inside warehouses or other facilities to track assets (both fixed and mobile). The technology allows companies to search for and find these assets within a facility using a map-based interface. The beacons can be placed on assets, and then broadcast their location wirelessly. Using a mobile device, employees can locate any beacon within range. The tags can also have other “smart” sensors for movement, vibration, temperature, GPS, and other measurements, especially important for tracking food or other assets that need stable environments.

RTLS (Real-Time Location) Systems. Some RTLS systems work with the above technologies, but some also work in conjunction with Wi-Fi technology. Leveraging an existing WLAN network, they can provide highly accurate location data on assets within a building or large vehicle.

By using real-time asset management technology, companies can better measure cycle times, improve asset utilization, and gain visibility into the status of their high-value assets. This can help reduce unnecessary asset purchases, and help identify potential operational improvements. With the wide variety of technology options available, there’s an asset management solution that is right for your company.

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RFID Hardware RFID Software Transportation and Logistics

Is RFID Right for Your Supply Chain?

Radio frequency identification (RFID) uses electronic tags to store data that can be transmitted to a scanner/reader. This provides identification and tracking benefits similar to those from barcoding, but with the ability to store more information and to read tags without a line of sight. Also, multiple (in some cases, hundreds) of tags can be read at once, making the technology more efficient.

RFID has been deployed for supply chain management by many companies, but is RFID right for your specific supply chain? Here are seven questions to ask as you evaluate whether this technology is right for your business.

1. Are you looking for increased efficiency and accuracy?RFID can improve equipment, inventory, and business process visibility in ways that other technologies simply can’t. Moreover, it can do so with a much higher degree of automation than other identification technologies (like barcodes). RFID tags can be read on an ongoing basis using readers installed at dock doors, at partner facilities, and even inside trucks or shipping containers. This allows you to collect granular inventory data that is more accurate and timely.

2. Are you in a hurry?If you have to quickly deploy a system to address an inventory issue in your supply chain, then RFID may not be the answer at least in the short term. An RFID deployment requires more planning and development than a barcode system because of the intricacies of RF technology and the infrastructure requirements.

3. Do your supply chain partners use RFID?In a closed-loop system where you are shipping goods from your own warehouse to a retail location or customer site, radio frequency identification can be more beneficial because you can ensure that there will be RFID readers at each node. If you heavily use third-party logistics providers and other leased infrastructure, there may still be gaps. Quite a few 3PL specialists, however, offer RFID tracking capabilities that could be integrated with your own initiative.

4. Are you in an environment with a lot of metal or water?RF signals can be degraded or blocked by large amounts of metal or liquids. While there are RFID tags designed specifically to work reliably under these conditions, they are more complex to deploy and often more expensive. That will add cost and time to the deployment, and potentially limit your choice of technologies/providers.

5. What level of visibility do you need?There’s not necessarily a business case for item-level tracking in every category. Very cheap goods won’t benefit from RFID because the cost of the tags relative to the cost of the goods is too high.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t value in case- or pallet-level tagging. You can still have faster and more accurate inventory location data under that model, and generate a measurable ROI.

6. Is your environment challenging for barcode labels?RFID can be used in applications where traditional labels aren’t practical. If you can’t get line of sight on a label, then RFID may be a better option. The technology can also be used in harsh or dangerous conditions — tags can be read at very high or low temperatures, in the presence of dangerous fumes/chemicals, and in storage locations where label scanning might be a challenge. Durable RFID tags can also withstand conditions (like harsh cleaning or trips through an autoclave) that would be impractical for paper barcode labels.

7. Do you need more than just location data?RFID combined with low-cost sensors that measure temperature, vibration, and pressure can do more than just tell where your goods/assets are. They can provide real-time updates on conditions that affect the quality of the freight in question. For example, for cold chain applications (such as frozen food, pharmaceuticals, or fresh produce) RFID and sensors can produce an auditable record of the temperature of the inventory in order to ensure quality and safety.
Is radio frequency identification a good fit for your supply chain? In most cases, the answer is yes — provided you build the right business case prior to deployment. RFID can provide supply chain benefits beyond location tracking, making it possible to optimize operations in ways not previously possible.

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Industry Solutions Mobility RFID Hardware RFID Software Warehouse and Distribution

4 Ways Mobility and the Internet of Things Benefit Warehouses

The growing Internet of Things (IoT) is on its way to connecting billions of pieces of equipment, consumer products, smart home systems, electronics, and other items. That represents a revolutionary way to collect data from far-flung assets, improving predictive maintenance, providing remote troubleshooting and control capabilities, and creating new ways to leverage large amounts of data that was never before available.

Mobility plays a similar role. Every partner, employee, and customer is potentially available anywhere and anytime, as long as they have their smartphone, tablet, or handheld computer. In combination, mobility and Internet of Things will extend the reach of the enterprise to virtually anywhere.

What does this mean for the warehouse? While mobility and the Internet of Things present plenty of opportunities outside the four walls, they will also have positive effects within the distribution center. The IoT will allow supply chains to create hyper-efficient warehouses that generate fewer shipping errors and hold less inventory.

There are four primary ways that mobility and the IoT will benefit the warehouse:

1. Better inventory management. Shelves full of connected products and smart shipping containers will make it easier to locate and manage inventory in the warehouse. These systems can automatically generate alerts if stock is running low or if temperatures or other conditions may jeopardize the quality of goods. Shelving and racking can become part of the Internet of Things, using real-time connectivity to help guide picking and putaway. The IoT could also make it easier to manage returns, since the returned item itself can communicate important information about its status, location, and ultimate point of disposition.

2. Improved efficiency and less labor.With better information about where goods are located, employees can do their work much faster. Armed with mobile computers, staff can do their work anywhere in the warehouse. The IoT can also be used to enable more warehouse automation, generating real-time demand signals that can guide robotic picking and putaway systems. Data from connected inventory and infrastructure can also help warehouse operators identify bottlenecks and monitor unsafe working conditions. Using that data, the warehouse can be reconfigured to be safer and to provide the most efficient picking paths and inventory configurations.

3. Better customer engagement.With the type of granular visibility into inventory and warehouse operations the Internet of Things and mobility provides, you can keep your customers better informed about the status of their inventory or orders. Data from connected products in the field can also be leveraged to generate more accurate demand signals and order/production forecasts.

In addition, the warehouse can provide new types of value-added services to customers using IoT and mobility technology. With better information about inventory and future demand, warehouses could offer more capacity to their customers, providing a sort of “burst capacity” for short-term increases capacity. Having better inventory information sooner means warehouses can more successfully offer cross-docking, just-in-time, and other types of services in a more cost-effective way.

4. Reduced risk.The IoT can help warehouses better detect risk and avoid mistakes/accidents that can create losses in the supply chain. Sensors in the warehouse can monitor temperature, moisture, and other conditions. Data coming from shipping conveyances, vehicles, and the products themselves can be combined to reduce theft, counterfeiting, diversion, and spoilage.

The Internet of Things and mobile technology can make the supply chain more flexible, reliable, predictable, and transparent. The warehouse can benefit from the IoT both internally, in terms of productivity and efficiency, and externally, through improved customer service. With this technology, your entire operation could see gains in efficiency, productivity, and accuracy, which can help your business grow.

 

 

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Industry Solutions RFID Hardware RFID Software Transportation and Logistics

How Technology is Changing the Transportation and Logistics Industry

The transportation and logistics industry has traditionally been defined by trucks and infrastructure, but over the past several years technology has begun to change that. The use of mobile computers, GPS solutions, electronic tolling, and electronic vehicle logs have revolutionized logistics. Other new technologies are poised to have just as big an impact, and the future of logistics will be marked by new advancements. It’s important for transportation companies to stay up-to-speed with these developments, even those that may be a few years away from widespread adoption.

While there are a number of new technologies that will affect the transportation and logistics industry, here are some critical ones to keep on your radar:

Telematics and Fleet Management

Logistics companies have been using GPS systems to track the location of their trucks for years. What has changed is the number of new features and functions that GPS-based fleet management systems now offer. In addition to seeing truck locations, managers can now set up geofences to enable alerts when a truck is nearing its destination (or has veered far out of its service area), optimize routes using real-time traffic data, improve vehicle utilization, and automatically track driver hours and fuel tax reporting information.

The telematics functions of these system also make it possible to track vehicle maintenance needs (scheduling serviced based on miles driven), and generate alerts if the engine generates a trouble code. This can help avoid breakdowns and extend the life of the vehicle. Finally, companies can track speeding, harsh braking/acceleration, excessive idling and other conditions that will reduce fuel consumption, save costs, and improve safety. In addition, some insurance companies now offer discounts for fleet operators that use these solutions.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT involves using sensors and network communications to connect machines to the Internet. This makes it possible to monitor equipment, remotely control devices (like printers or home security systems), and receive alerts when machines need repaired or serviced. IoT is an extension of the types of telematics information that has already been provided.  This can start further up-stream in the ordering, manufacturing and warehousing chain. Smart machines will broadcast their needs for new parts or consumables before running out. With clearer demand signals, the supply chain will have to be more responsive.

During transport, trucks could monitor temperature, vibration and other elements that affect the condition of the load. Not only will information about the truck and environment be captured, but IoT monitors can stay with a shipment across multiple international transportation methods, from shipping to truck to rail to steamship to yard storage to rail to truck to delivery. In this way, logistics companies could provide better insight for shippers and receivers — this type of data is critical for cold chain or produce applications.

The availability of low-cost sensors and Bluetooth wireless technology will make it easier to add trucks to this burgeoning online network of supply chain data, providing last-mile visibility that was previously unattainable.

Drone Delivery and Driverless Cars

Amazon made a big splash when it announced it planned to use unmanned flying drones to deliver products to customers. While the idea of flying robots dropping packages from the sky sounds pretty cool, practical considerations (cost, safety, regulations, etc.) will likely keep deliver operations grounded for several more years.

Driverless vehicles, on the other hand, are an advancement that may affect the logistics and transportation industry sooner rather than later. Several companies have already tested driverless cars on the open road (including Google), and there are a number of test facilities in the U.S. where the technology is being further developed. Several auto manufactures have also introduced semi-autonomous driving capabilities in their vehicles (Tesla is a prime example). And Uber’s Otto division is already testing driverless trucks for logistics and delivery applications. By eliminating the need for a driver, logistics companies could address the driver shortage and greatly improve safety by reducing or eliminating the possibility of driver fatigue.

Even if a driver has to still be inside an autonomous truck (which is the case under current law), they could switch the vehicle to autonomous and mode and theoretically rest while the truck keeps on moving. There are plenty of regulatory and insurance issues to sort through, in addition to great leaps in reliability that would be required of the technology. But the transportation and logistics industry should start giving this technology a hard look.

Cloud-Based Computing and Business Analytics

Often, people think of technology as strictly hardware, gadgets, etc.  However, the significant increase in capabilities and enhancements in architecture for cloud-based computing and business analytics also dramatically affects the transportation industry.   For years, telematics and RFID and other technologies provided plenty of data that could be used, but companies rarely were able to capture and organize that data, let alone harness the value of analytics.  The sophistication of software and data architectures now allow all the data to be effectively controlled and manipulated to generate not only detail status of activity and process flow, but predictive and suggestive advice to proactively improve operations and stop problems before they occur.

Then, providing operational alerts and management advice in a timely fashion to users’ mobile devices keeps them productively active and in the field instead of tied to a spreadsheet or mountains of paper printouts, wondering “What does it all mean?”

The transportation and logistics industry should prepare to embrace these changes and innovations. Doing so will improve their competitive position and enable them to meet the future needs and demands of their customers.

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Barcode Custom Application Development Industry Solutions Retail RFID Hardware RFID Software

Retail Technology: Bundle RFID, Digital Signage, and POS to Improve Your Bottom Line and Sales

Retail technology has become increasingly advanced. At the same time, customers have become more accustomed to using digital channels and devices in their interactions with retailers. For brick-and-mortar stores to continue to compete with online channels, they have to leverage technology in their daily operations to both increase sales and improve the shopping experience for their customers.

While there are plenty of new technologies on the market, the combination of advanced point of sale (POS) solutions, digital signage, and RFID tracking are poised to revolutionize the way retailers and customers interact in the store.

POS — More than Payment

POS systems are a retail technology that has evolved beyond the cash register. Advanced systems now provide payment management and data analytics capabilities that can help your store run better.

The analytics from a POS solution will provide data that can help you track sales and inventory, identify slow-moving merchandise, and help you make better decisions about what should (or shouldn’t) be on the shelf. That same data can also clue you in to when you are making sales, so you can adjust staffing levels for peak and slow sales periods.

Loss Prevention (LP) technology associated with the POS also makes it more difficult for employees to commit theft or fraud. By carefully tracking which employees were working at each station, and by monitoring both inventory and purchase data, you can more quickly be alerted to potential fraud and access detailed purchase records that will make it easier to find out exactly what happened and who was responsible.

A modern POS system also makes it possible for you to meet PCI security requirements, while taking new forms of payment (like PIN and chip cards, or phone payments), issuing gift and loyalty cards, and accepting coupons. All of these features can help bring in and retain new customers.

RFID Improves Inventory Visibility

Major retailers like Marks & Spencer, Saks, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s now use RFID at the store and shelf-level to track inventory. American Apparel claims it reduced internal shrinkage by an average of 55 percent across its RFID-enabled stores while increasing sales.

This retail technology provides real-time visibility across the supply chain, right down to the retail shelf. With tagged merchandise and handheld RFID scanners (or shelf-based systems) the time it takes to conduct in-store inventories can be slashed by as much as 80 percent to 85 percent. Real-time inventory information also makes it easier to avoid out-of-stocks by alerting staff when its time to restock based on preset shelf parameters. That can help avoid lost sales by making sure the items your customers want are always on the shelf.

In addition, real-time inventory visibility makes it possible to fulfill buy-online, pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) orders, which can further boost revenues.

RFID retail technology can also augment shrink-control efforts by providing a way to combine POS tracking with electronic article surveillance. Advanced systems can even tell you when something is taken from the shelf but doesn’t make its way to the check-out. For heavily shoplifted, high-value items, this type of advanced monitoring can quickly pay for itself via reduced theft.

Digital Signage in Action

A third retail technology, digital signage, can enhance internal marketing and advertising efforts. The signage is placed at the POS, at service points, at the shelf, and other high traffic areas. The signs can convey advertising and marketing messages, provide information about promotions or special pricing, and in some cases, even create customer-specific marketing messages based on shopper behavior.

Digital signage can reduce or eliminate the cost of printing in-store signage and advertising. It also provides upsell opportunities. Digital signage can encourage the purchase of specific premium brands when placed next to competitive items, for example.
A 2010 Nielson study of digital signage in grocery stores found that four out of five brands experienced increases of up to 33 percent in additional sales compared to the use of printed signage alone.

Integrated Customer Experience

By combining retail technology like POS systems, RFID, and digital signage, stores can also enable new ways to increase revenues and customer loyalty, while improving efficiency. Digital signage that is integrated with a shelf-level RFID solution can present shoppers with promotions or other complementary purchase suggestions based on the items they have removed from the shelf.

Using customer loyalty data and current purchase information at the POS, the solution could also generate additional promotions or incentives to get the customer to return to the store. This type of personalized shopping experience not only improves the image of the store, but also encourages additional purchases.

Shoppers use advanced technology every day, at work, at home, and even in their cars. Digital technology plays a larger role than ever in how customers research and purchase the goods they need. By integrating digital signage, POS solutions, and RFID, stores can leverage advanced retail technology to increase sales and improve the shopping experience for their customers.

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Retail RFID Hardware RFID Software

In-Store Analytics: The Future of Retail

The balance of power when it comes to information has shifted from retailers to shoppers with the advent of e-tailing. Shoppers now have access to an infinite amount of competitive pricing information. Even if customers walk into a retail location, they may simply evaluate products in person, then purchase online from another retailer, or hustle down the street to a competitor who is offering a better deal.

Retailers need to be able to evaluate real-time consumer data in order to capture customer business more effectively. More importantly, they need access to in-store analytics capabilities to turn that data into actionable business information. According to the Forrester Consulting and RetailNext study “Real-Time Data Drives the Future of Retail,” consumer and retailer perceptions are not aligned, and many stores lack the technology to utilize shopper data across channels. The study also found that retailers struggle to measure customer behavior. Just 33 percent, for example, reported always measuring conversion rates.

Forrester believes the store of the future will be powered by real-time in-store analytics that can predict shopper behavior over the entire “shopping journey” across multiple channels.

This means more than just head counts and point of sale data. In-store analytics allows retailers to evaluate everything from the effectiveness of a display, apparel size selection, and store layout by tracking how customers interact with merchandise. Why did they try something on and not buy it? Are there areas of the store that customers simply don’t walk through? Is end-cap display placement affecting sales of nearby products?

Consumers shop with their mobile devices and expect to encounter sales associates who can use that same technology to help them find the right product at the right price. Those shoppers also want to experience a consistent sales experience and consistent pricing across channels.

Using analytics, retailers can evaluate traffic, conversion, fixture engagement, shopper paths, and other data, and use that information to rapidly adjust their marketing and in-store operations, as well as provide better data so that buyers and planners can make better decisions. The data can help stores evaluate why a particular item didn’t sell or help prepare for a potential out-of-stock situation.

Real-Time Data Fuels Analytics

Getting that data requires the integration of point-of-sale data, online channel data, information from in-store sensors and RFID systems, and data pulled from other mobile and online interactions. This investment in in-store analytics, combined with the ability to quickly share data across operational areas, can help retailers respond more quickly to sales trends, provide information that can be useful in vendor negotiations, and create more effective buy plans.

Analytics can also help address other data gaps in retail. When customers enter a store but don’t purchase anything, retailers gain zero data. Additional information from sales associates and sensor/RFID systems could help provide a better understanding of those shoppers. In-store analytics can provide information that will help improve product mix optimization, and gain a better return on investment in their data collection activities. Analytics can also improve the use of campaigns and promotional displays based on actual customer behavior.

By linking in-store mobility systems to customer data, sales associates and managers can respond more quickly to customer needs while they are still in the store, which can help increase conversions and turn shoppers into buyers. Stores can also improve staffing levels based on shopper volume, improve store layout, or co-locate products that are frequently purchased together. Getting shoppers into your store is only half the battle. Analytics can help you better understand the customers you’ve already attracted, keep them coming back, and encourage them to buy more from you, and do so more often.

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RFID Hardware RFID Software

Pros and Cons: The Use of RFID for Inventory Management

In warehouses, distribution centers, and facilities that have deployed automated inventory management technology, barcode labels have become standard operating procedures. But RFID has become  a bigger part of the inventory management equation, especially in retail where a number of large companies are using the tags to track goods at the pallet, case, and even item-level at the retail shelf. While RFID has some big advantages over barcode labels, deciding whether to use the technology in your own inventory operations will require weighing the costs and benefits. Below, we’ve outlined some of the pros and cons of using RFID for inventory management.

PROS

– RFID does not require line of sight for scanning. With barcode labels, employees (or fixed position scanners) have to be able to see the label in order to get a reliable scan. In conveyor-based operations, that means boxes have to be oriented a certain way on the belt so that the label can be scanned. Because RFID tags can be read from any orientation, it can speed up the scanning process and reduce the labor associated with repositioning boxes for scanning. Also, scanners can read multiple tags at the same time, so an entire pallet-load of items can be scanned simultaneously.

– RFID can reduce labor costs. Labor can account for 50% to 80% of costs in a distribution center. With RFID, inventory check-in, regularly inventory counts, picking/pack times, and shipment verification can all be done in seconds or minutes. Processes that used to require multiple employees to complete can be handled automatically with a few scans.

– RFID also improves visibility of inventory by providing real-time updates and faster scanning. With RFID readers placed at each portal or doorway, you can know exactly when inventory enters or leaves a location; with barcodes, employees could potentially move an item without scanning it, which erodes data accuracy. That visibility can also improve the tracking of returns or recalled items by providing real-time updates as the goods re-enter the facility.

– For companies that use returnable containers or pallets, RFID provides a way to track those items across the supply chain, optimize asset inventory, and reduce loss or theft. Returnable containers can represent millions of dollars in capital investments, so RFID provides a way to reduce those expenses.

– Traditional linear barcodes can only hold a limited amount of data, typically a serial number that references a database. RFID tags can hold larger amounts and different types of data, and that data can be read even in remote locations without a connection to the back-end database.

– Durability also increases with RFID tags. Barcode labels can fade or fall off when they are exposed to the weather, sunlight, or other harsh conditions. RFID tags now exist that are not only weatherproof, but that can also survive harsh chemical baths or even multiple autoclave and sterilization cycles.

CONS

– The biggest hurdle to deployment in most applications is the cost of RFID tags. Barcode labels are substantially cheaper. RFID at the item level has largely been deployed on higher value goods, but there is still a good business case for RFID at the case or pallet level in many instances. A thorough ROI analysis would be required to determine if RFID is a fit.

– RFID tags may also suffer from interference problems. If the tag environment contains a lot of metal, liquids or other sources of radio interference, you could require multiple types of more expensive tags.

– The cost of upgrading equipment and facilities to use RFID is another potential drawback. To get the biggest bang for your buck, all of your facilities would need to be able to read the tags in order to achieve the required visibility. You may also need cooperation from suppliers, customers, or transportation companies.

– RFID tags can provide much more traceability data than barcodes, but managing all of that data can be a challenge. The solution has to be configured to manage by exception, so that your servers aren’t bombarded by superfluous information.

– There are also still incompatible standards across different industries, tag types, and in different countries. If you plan to use RFID to track goods internationally, you may need to deploy different types of systems in different geographies.

With some planning and forethought, RFID could potentially provide a means to improve inventory visibility and optimization. Carefully weigh the benefits and potential challenges before making a decision about how to use the technology in your inventory operations.

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Barcode Mobility RFID Hardware Warehouse and Distribution

Inventory Control: 5 Steps to a Successful Warehouse

There’s a subtle difference between inventory management and inventory control. While opinions vary, most categorize inventory management as more of an external-facing process that involves forecasting, ordering, and making sure you have the right amount of inventory in the right locations.

Inventory control, on the other hand, is all about how you handle that inventory once it’s inside your warehouse. As such, it’s an important warehouse operation that has a huge affect on how quickly and accurately you can respond to customer requests, and the level of service your warehouse is able to provide.

Here are five steps to more effective inventory control:

Track Your Inventory: Barcoding (or RFID tracking) will ensure that you get an accurate count of your entire inventory. By implementing scanning procedures for each movement within the warehouse, you can create real-time visibility into location and inventory levels. Combining this with electronic data interchange, advance shipping notices, and other technology will eliminate mispicks and miscounts, shipping errors, out of stocks, and other negative consequences of inadequate tracking.

Categorize Your Inventory: With accurate data about what is moving in and out of your warehouse, and how often, you can begin ranking the items in the warehouse. In most scenarios, around 80 percent of demand comes from 10 to 20 percent of your SKUs. Dedicate more forecasting and inventory management resources to those fast moving items, while optimizing stocks of slower-moving B and C-level inventory.

Organize Your Inventory: Identifying and categorizing inventory also helps you develop shelving and layout plans for the warehouse so that faster moving items are easier to be found, co-located (if they tend to ship together), kitted, or staged closer to the shipping area. Inventory should be organized in such a way that you improve the efficiency of picking and packing, and reduce the overall cost of fulfillment for each customer order.

Automate Cycle Counting: Cycle counting provides ongoing inventory data so that you have access to accurate inventory more than just once a year. The process can even be automated by using barcode scans to conduct the counts as part of the normal course of business. If there are particular items or areas that tend to create inventory problems or generate errors, count those areas more often.

Reduce Inventory: This is where inventory control and inventory management cross paths. Having too much inventory on hand eats up cash and damage, depreciation, or obsolescence, depending on the type of inventory you are holding. It also makes it harder to keep your warehouse orderly and well organized. Ultimately, old inventory gets marked down and sold.

You’ll need the analytics capability to identify fast and slow moving inventory, and to use sales data to determine just how much inventory you actually need, and whether or not that particular SKU is subject to seasonal swings in demand. It’s tempting to keep extra inventory on hand just in case, but moving to a just-in-time model will free up working capital and reduce the cost of obsolescence.

Improving inventory control will improve inventory management, and your ability to manage the entire supply chain. Well-organized warehouse inventory that can be automatically tracked and easily counted is the foundation of optimized warehouse operations.