We are excited to announce that RFID functionality has arrived in Flex! It has been talked about and debated for years now, and we feel that the hardware and the software have come to the point that we are confident in the accuracy and usability of RFID inside a rental warehouse. With the release of Flex5 v0.26.0, now available for both Android and Apple Tablets and Phones, RFID functionality is available as a new add on module for our customers.
Currently, RFID is available as a free preview functionality to select customers for testing purposes. In the future, this functionality will be an additional cost per billing cycle, whether you had preview access to the RFID functionality or not. To inquire about early access testing of RFID with your existing service, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology was developed in the 1940s and has been in commercial use for more than 30 years. RFID technology has been implemented by companies large and small to identify and keep track of their assets and inventory. RFID is commonly used in applications as varied as railway-car tracking, toll-road control, farm-animal identification, and retail theft control.
Rental Management, especially that with a complex warehousing workflow and processes such as those used in the live event industry, has historically struggled with successful RFID implementation. Our goal has been to take the "best-of-breed" warehousing processes found in Flex; add near-field batch capturing of RFID asset tags to make the capture much more efficient, while still maintaining the balance of accuracy.
Time and cost savings are the primary advantages of replacing Barcode Tracking with RFID. A comprehensive study by Shayne Pidding for RAMP RFID states an organization with about 100,000 assets can save up to $150,000 with implantation of RFID-based asset tracking technology. Our early estimates are that our customers who implement RFID technology will see a 6x - 10x speed improvement of asset ID capturing, which could greatly improve efficiency in the warehouse process. When potential implementers see possible savings such as these, there is a tendency to think that all work and accountability are a thing of the past and now technology will do all the work for them, far from it. Adding RFID on top of poor warehousing software just gets the user to an inferior end product faster. Similarly, adding RFID to an undisciplined and a loosely defined warehouse process gives you only marginal advantages.
Ideal candidates for RFID have an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of RFID, and that is not a magic pill that solves all problems. It should improve the speed at which you capture the identification of the items you are tracking, however, because RFID is not a line of sight capture such as barcode scanning, the possibilities are present that the user might capture tags nearby unexpectedly depending on different setups. Setting realistic expectations and understanding advantages and disadvantages of different workflows, warehouse setup and Tag types will greatly effect the final outcome.
RFID and Flex
"Begin with the End in Mind"
Steven R. Covey had great insights into productivity. The concept of "Beginning with the end in mind" is constructive to discuss how you might implement RFID in your warehouse process. If the end manifest is a linear list of gear, then storage or free pick containers are not necessary. RFID tags can be added on shipping cases, and they can be captured as part of the capture of RFID Tags with the rest of the inventory. The process of capturing all tags in a straight list of items is a more straightforward process where you are prepping all gear during the prep process.
However, if you are looking for a manifest of gear that details what inventory is contained inside each shipping case, with the ability to print show or shipping case labels with a list of shipping case contents, then that will dictate a different warehouse workflow process to get to your goal. The RFID capture process cannot know what items are inside each case if cases and assets all have RFID Tags and you simply sweep all RFID Tags with the reader during the prep process. If the goal is to build what assets are inside which shipping case, then the users would use a few different inventory types to build case contents in the warehouse process. We would recommend keeping BarCodes on the shipping cases and adding RFID to all other assets.
Storage Container functionality allows users to prepare the shipping cases to be “show ready,” before putting the shipping case on the shelf through the Container Building process. During the prep process, the user scans out the shipping case with the pre contained items directly to the manifest. This makes the prep process extremely fast as then you simply scan the barcoded cases during the prep process which adds the case with its pre prepped contents to the manifest with one scan. After returning all items during the return process, the user would then rebuild the case before putting them on the shelf by scanning the barcode for the shipping case in container builder, then RFID sweep the contents to fill the shipping case with the required contents. Finally, scan the shipping case barcode to close the case. Repeat as necessary for other cases.
Serialized Packages are similar to Storage Containers, in that they are prebuilt prior to the prep of a job. However the return process is different. Serialized Packages get built once and prepped. On the return the contents get auto returned and their contents stay intact, where Storage Containers require a return of the shipping case and contents. The Contents are removed during the return process to rebuild the shipping case contents with what ever items are in the shipping case during the return.
The second feature for building shipping case contents is called Free Pick Containers. These are typically empty shipping cases that get filled during the prep process of a show. During the prep process, before scanning or RFID capturing the tags, just scan the barcode of the Free Pick Container shipping case to virtually open the case, then RFID capture the items as you add them to the contents of the shipping case, and finally scan the barcode of the Free Pick Container shipping case to virtually close the case.
Whether using Storage Containers, Free Pick Containers or Serialized Packages, the end manifest is ready for case labels and reports of case value and weight per case.
Low Frequency: >134kHz
- Globally-used frequency for applications such as access control, animal id and service industries.
- This frequency has the least problems with metal and liquids.
High Frequency: 13.56 MHz – nowadays also more known as NFC standard as you can also communicate on this standard with certain smart phones and tablets.
- Globally-used frequency for applications include tracking library books, patient flow tracking, and transit tickets.
- HF RFID systems work in ranges of inches, but they can have a maximum read range of about three feet (1 meter).
Ultra High Frequency: 868MHz Europe / 915 MHz USA / 950 MHz Japan / 918-926 MHz Australia
There are standards existing on the communication, but the frequency is still regionally determined.
- UHF frequencies typically offer much better read range (inches to 50+ ft. depending on the RFID system setup) and can transfer data faster (i.e. read many more tags per second) than low- and high-frequencies.
- However, because UHF radio waves have a shorter wavelength, their signal is more likely to be attenuated (or weakened) and they cannot pass through metal or water.
- Due to their high data transfer rate, UHF RFID tags are well-suited for many items at once, such as boxes of goods as they pass through a dock door into a warehouse or racers as they cross a finish line.
- Also, due to the longer read range, other common UHF RFID applications include electronic toll collection and parking access control.
- Based upon these characteristics, UHF frequency tags are best suited for high volume inventory tracking of assets.
- Some Tags are Global-UHF capable, meaning that the antenna can receive radio frequency over a broader range and can be read by both USA and European readers. Multi-national companies should consider this if inventory will be transferred between