Manufacturing News

Lessons learnt from RFID warehousing rollout

THE implementation of a worldwide RFID system by Recall, a global information lifecycle management company, to its secure information centres has significant relevance to manufacturers who warehouse large quantities of components and completed products.

In most sophisticated warehouse facilities today, the focus is on optimised utilisation of available space. Modern racking systems, along with advances in forklift design, have lead to narrower isles with ever-increasing quantities of stock held on increasingly taller racks.

This was exactly the situation faced by Recall when it began work on its industry’s first global RFID implementation.

“Our storage environment and operations are similar to those of many warehouses; needing to know exactly where particular items are located, being able to quickly find and retrieve these items, and being able to undertake audits of stock or holdings in an economical timeframe,” said Russell Skinner, Recall’s Global VP, Business Integration, who led the company’s international RFID project development and deployment team.

Operating in more than 20 countries, with over 300 secure information centres, Recall holds millions of physical cartons containing customers’ vital documents.

To store these cartons cost effectively and with highly efficient use of space Recall’s global standard operating procedures require that cartons be stored three deep with many of its centres using racking upwards of 20m in height.

While the height of the racks was not an issue for Recall, the inability to easily identify and locate cartons beyond ‘line of sight’ provided the company with a challenge.

This led Recall to adopt and implement RFID technology based solution that could read cartons stored in the racks with over 99% accuracy in a fraction of the time that a manual search would require.

Additionally, RFID is synchronised with Recall’s global inventory management system, ReQuest, so the risk of human error and/or lengthy audit periods is further minimised.

“We had to work from the ground up on this launch. We soon discovered that our long-term success with RFID would come from building robust relationships with suppliers who could work with us in an innovative manner,” said Skinner.

Testing tags

Much of the work involved testing passive tags with the capability to be read over 99% of the time in a three-deep carton storage configuration.

Testing also looked at maintaining performance levels in the substantially different steel racking configurations that Recall has across its various locations.

“One of the early discoveries was how different steel shelving types and the different RFID frequency and power wattages around the world could impact performance. The answer lay in testing, testing and then more testing at the beta stage,” said Skinner.

For the Brisbane-based Skinner and his global innovation team, this was the chance to break new ground, and to do so in a way that brought real business benefits to both Recall and its customers.

For Recall, the RFID implementation delivers increased management efficiency for the storage and auditing of customer records.

By marking document archival cartons with passive RFID tags, and by using specially designed RFID equipment deployed throughout its facilities, Recall can provide enhanced inventory and audit reporting for its customers in a fraction of the time taken by traditional physical audits.

According to Skinner, there are three lessons from his experiences worth passing on to others either, charged with or contemplating the deployment of RFID technology:

have a business need – not a technology desire;

keep the internal team small; and

engage with long-term technology partners who understand your business and its needs.

By doing these things, he believes that the benefits derived will be significant for both the company implementing the technology and its customers.

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