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RFID in the workplace: Next-level inventory automation

One of the fastest-growing technologies in today's warehouse is radio frequency identification (RFID), and if you follow developments in the warehousing and distribution industry, you've probably heard some discussion about RFID and its potential over the years.

However, until recently, RFID was more about potential than a practical reality because high costs got in the way of adopting this technology more widely.

That has changed dramatically since RFID made its big debut about a decade ago. Increases in RFID adoption as well as advances in related technology have made it a much more affordable and cost-effective option for warehouses looking to better automate their inventory management and workflows.

In this article, we'll take a look at how RFID is now revolutionizing how warehouses track parts, materials, finished goods, and shipments as they move through their processes. And we'll explore how RFID's potential to improve inventory control, reduce errors and inaccuracies, and minimize labor costs have become reality.

The Big Advantages of RFID

Many warehouses are now using RFID as a replacement for, or as a complement to, barcode-driven processes. And there are several big reasons why.

First, unlike barcodes, which require line-of-sight and close proximity to a barcode label to scan items, RFID tags and labels allow items to be scanned and located remotely, even if you can't immediately see an item or its tag or label.

RFID tags or labels are encoded with unique identifiers and are equipped with a tiny wireless radio transmitter. The transmitter communicates with RFID readers, which are either handheld or fixed devices that send signals to the tag or label and even power their transmitters by sending energy waves.

Instead of having to manually scan barcodes, workers can use a handheld RFID reader, such as a Zebra MC3330xR RFID handheld reader, and read multiple tags simultaneously from up to 30 feet away. This means they can scan an entire case or pallet of goods in a few seconds, and they'll not only be able to identify the items and their quantities, but they'll also know their location to within a few feet.

For applications where it makes sense to completely automate the process, you can use Zebra fixed RFID readers and antennas placed in strategic locations, such as above doorways or overhead in warehouse aisles, to automatically read RFID tags or labels as they pass the reader. This approach is usually more expensive up-front due to the technologies involved, but it can completely eliminate the need for human labor in inventory tracking, and it can track items as they move from location to location and from stage to stage in a process.