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100+1 MOBILE RFID APPLICATIONS IN APPAREL SUPPLY CHAIN

This article is a collection of mobile RFID applications in apparel supply chain. The descriptions are short and the purpose is to provide overview and ideas for RFID system development.

Planning

Supply chain and its' practices are defined during planning. Strategic decisions that have an effect on potential RFID applications are for example decisions of outsourcing and factory locations. Product decisions - models, prices, quantities, timing are the starting point of the logistics chain. Logistics and supply chain management are tools for implementing the business decisions, and mobile RFID is a tool for supply chain.

Manufacturing

In apparel industry manufacturing is often located to a country far from the main sales areas. Sourcing strategies vary, which has also effect on the hardware decisions and processes. In some cases factories are owned by apparel brand owner, in some cases there is long term cooperation and in some cases factories compete for each model and contracts are short term.

In some manufacturing processes mobile RFID is used during and before the manufacturing for example in goods in application. In coming materials are identified and inputted to system using case or pallet level RFID. Tracking material flow and material use during manufacturing is one possibility. Information of any item that has passed a critical step in manufacturing process can be recorded and time stamped. Real time information gives the brand owner a possibility to follow status of the manufacturing, and accurate records can be used in future planning. Real time and accurate data reduces shrinkage and replaces onsite audits.  RFID tags can be also used for protecting against counterfeit products. Manufacturer can create a record of individual ID's of genuine items and the information can be utilized in further steps of the chain, as well as in consumer services.

During planning it is in many cases impossible or uneconomical to plan material use exactly. Typically use of bulk materials can be estimated with +/- 10% accuracy. Inaccuracy results partly from inaccuracy of the planning, partly it comes from inability to estimate material errors and manufacturing mistakes in advance. Some materials can be and are purchased exactly - expensive buttons for example, and especially brand labels.  As a result of inaccuracies the brand owner can receive the amount of ordered goods +/- 10%.  Additional amount is in some cases sold with lower price at outlets, lower quantities can at worst case risk relations to retail stores. Accurate information of manufactured goods and shipping contents is important.  Mobile RFID is an excellent tool for achieving accurate shipment information. Mobile RFID can be used in picking applications, and picking is followed by packing. During packing each item is identified - not as EAN level, but also including size, color etc. information. Mobile RFID helps in creating electronic packing lists. Brand owner receives information of exact content of the package at the time of packing. Entire transportation time is available for reacting and informing customers.

In some of the manufacturing applications fixed readers can be used instead of mobile readers - in some applications fixed reader may even be technically more feasible solution. Mobile readers are however used especially if brand owner favors short term manufacturing contracts. Brand owner can have device pool with applications and connections to their system established. When a new contract is started, the brand owner sends devices to new factory - mobile RFID readers are easy to move. Nordic ID Merlin UHF RFID and Nordic ID Merlin Cross Dipole UHF RFID are the products for manufacturing. They also include other functionalities that are often required in manufacturing: Bluetooth for printers, 2D code reader for reading EPC code in 2D format, WLAN and WWAN for wireless data connections and USB and Ethernet for wired data connections. 

Transportation

Tracking is a basic application during transportation. In different steps of transportation the packages or pallets are identified and information of the step, goods and time stamp are provided. Reading is usually done whenever the package is loaded to or unloaded from a vehicle, ship etc. or moved to or from a warehouse. At the start of the transportation creating a record of ongoing goods, or goods loaded to the truck produces an electronic proof of shipment. RFID data also helps in creating accurate export/import documents.

During transportation RFID also helps in customs operations. EPC code includes information of country of origin. Customs officials can verify and record the country of origin information without opening the packages.

Some mobile RFID applications related to transportation are for deviation situation. A misplaced package can be moved to correct place and a package with damaged packing label can be identified from contents without opening the package with the help of Nordic ID's mobile RFID reader. Mobile RFID can be also used for searching a package or a product.

Nordic ID Merlin Cross Dipole UHF RFID is the favorite product for transportation operations.

Distribution center

Goods in, goods out and other tracking applications can utilize mobile RFID also at distribution centers. In some cases distribution centers combine shipments. Products from various factories are combined into a package that is then transported to the store. Using mobile RFID with picking, tracking and packing applications improves delivery accuracy, improve inventory accuracy and speeds up the operations. Accurate information and tracking information reduces shrinkage.

Ideal product for distribution center operations is Nordic ID Merlin Cross Dipole UHF RFID. DeliveryIn many ways final delivery resembles transportation. Tracking is a common application for mobile RFID. Tracking information is used for shrinkage reduction and for protection against counterfeit products. Using RFID also produces an electronic proof of delivery.

Nordic ID Morphic is and excellent product for delivery operations. The product is easy to carry. The same product can be used as a phone, getting signature of recipient and as an overall communication tool between delivery truck driver and home base.

Retail store

Store operations start with goods in and are followed by other inventory management applications.  With goods in identification also other actions are made. The products are signed in to EAS database and their genuinity is verified.

Tracking information is part of many store operations efficiency and quality measurement. Mobile RFID speeds up inventory counts and improves inventory accuracy. This improves backroom to store replenishment efficiency and makes store to store transfers easier.  As a special case of replenishment is arrival of a new product type, with a new product it is often useful to provide guidelines for store personnel on how to display the products. Key for opening the instructions is certain RFID code and user interface is a mobile device. With mobile RFID readers items can be counted store wide with the speed of tens of items per second. And inventory is not limited to product type information - items are recognized as individuals. At the same time mobile RFID can be used for creating warnings about items in wrong location. Ensuring that all the goods are at correct places improves sales and increases efficiency of shelf space use. Because inventory counts consume very little time inventories can be taken frequently. Improved inventory accuracy reduces out-of-stock situations, gives possibility to react quickly for unexpected sales or lack of sales and provides feedback for planning.

Mobile RFID also enables new kind of customer services. It is possible to easily track goods taken to fitting room, provide information of products and find complementing or alternative products. With mobile RFID reader it is also quick to scan through the selves for finding a certain sizes, colors etc. products. Mobile devices can be also used for collecting customer feedback of the products and overall service. When fitting room data and customer feedback is combined with sales data the created information is valuable feedback for creative department.

Shrinkage reduction is a common part of RFID systems. At the point of sale mobile reader is one alternative for removing purchased items from EAS database. When an alert sounds the security guard scans purchased items for finding the tag that caused the alert. With mobile RFID reader the operation can be done with minimal disturbance - without opening bags. Picture of the item on the device display is an additional help. Instead of being forced for rumbling through the bag the security giard can ask: "did you purchase this product - I am sorry but it seems that security tag is still active". Mobile RFID improves customer service. When goods are returned the handheld can be used again at the service desk for unlocking the tag and returning it to the EAS database. At the service desk RFID tag can be also used for validating warranty claims. Items in modifying service can be tracked with RFID without risk of mixing items. Same type of application can be used in tracking repairs. RFID applications reduce claims.

One new type of customer service is a possibility to provide customers information of genuine goods. Brand owner can establish a service from which a customer can validate genuinity, and in some case also place and time of purchase. Service can be provided for example at the retail store service desks.
Nordic ID Morphic is the ideal product for customer service, pos, service desk etc applications. The device is light weight, easy to carry and has other useful functionality such as voice and barcode.  Nordic ID Merlin versions are ideal for inventory applications.

Management applications

Wide use of RFID enables new kind of measurement and management applications that are not necessarily specific to one step of the supply chain. All tracking applications provide efficiency information and serve as a benchmark tool. It is possible to compare factories, transportation routes, distribution centers, delivery trucks, stores etc in details. The information can be used for directing development resources into correct spots. Typical benefits include efficient operations, efficient use of capital, reduced shrinkage and faster desk-to-consumer process. RFID is a major tool for fighting counterfeit products. When genuine product database is established the company can start to search for brand goods and is able to ensure that the goods are genuine. In some cases it is also interesting to track sales route of the goods. This can be used for eliminating unauthorized channel.

Nordic ID has a product range that covers all apparel supply chain applications. The products are software compatible. When an application is created to one of the models, the result is three for the price of one. With one development work customer is able to choose a product that fits best at their individual applications and environment.

6 comments on “100+1 MOBILE RFID APPLICATIONS IN APPAREL SUPPLY CHAIN”

  1. Gravatar of Keith EvansKeith Evans
    Posted 31 July 2011 at 13:29:35

    With todays technology, should we not also consider the consumer in the supply chain?

  2. Posted 02 August 2011 at 13:11:47

    Good point Keith. This article focuses on the supply chain only. There are a number of RFID applications already in use in customer service, and a lot more that are being tested and evaluated. One common example is finding a product in the store: A product should be in the store’s stock, but a customer does not find it because of misplacement etc – an everyday issue in apparel and book stores. With RFID it is relatively easy to find a product quickly. But there are a plenty of more – many enough to dedicate another article to the consumer and customer service applications.

  3. Posted 10 August 2011 at 13:05:12

    Teemu, we are waiting. :)

  4. Gravatar of Kemps VicKemps Vic
    Posted 21 October 2011 at 19:32:45

    I have met many customers in the logistics sector which only use R.F.I.D. if their customers will pay for it. It seems that R.F.I.D. tags are still too expensive for some applications (transport: RTLS, tracking). What can decrease the price of the now expensive tags?

  5. Posted 27 October 2011 at 12:28:18

    Hello,

    At the moment in the apparel retail the price per tag shouldn't be the reason. It is approx. 8 cents (€ currency) per tag including tagging.

    The tag prices go down when demand rises, that is for sure.

    Also increasing amount of tag manufacturers increase competition which has an effect on the prices too.

    The tag prices are also very much dependant on the type of tags needed. Hard tags, soft tags, converting needs, do they include EAS.

  6. Gravatar of Todd SpenceTodd Spence
    Posted 01 September 2014 at 16:44:26

    The technology of RF Controls will deliver the promise of RTLS throughout the supply chain. The ability to locate a tag using a fixed, ceiling mounted antenna from distances of 100+ feet is the game changer that will enable the IoT.

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