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To talk about RFID systems in the industry, we can not do it without having in mind two of the most important sectors in terms of movement of goods: logistics and manufacturing:
Even before an item gets to a store, it has to be transported and handled by a complex – usually global – supply chain. The main benefit of RFID for logistics and the supply chain is that it keeps products, pallets or vehicles from getting lost. And it does so without fault.
Believe it or not, human error is one of the biggest problems when recording or processing logistic data. With RFID, the resulting information is much more trustworthy and useful for a warehouse management system or an enterprise resource planning system.
Another use of RFID is ensuring products are moved from one step of the process or location to the next as soon as possible. There are many stages in the logistics chain in which a pallet, for example, could get lost; especially if its final destination is halfway around the world.
On an international scale, RFID helps logistic chains achieve perfect timing and guarantees items aren’t forgotten in shipping docks or warehouses for days on end. This makes the logistic chain leaner, while also significantly reducing costs and losses.
Once a pallet has safely travelled to its final warehouse destination, it can be recorded by the RFID systems as having arrived and each product can automatically be logged in. The advantage of this real-time automated data capturing system is it makes asset management much easier.
For years, supply chains have been using RFID to track and manage returnable product containers, for yard and warehouse management. In fact, the benefits of RFID in the retail and logistics sectors have made it more interesting for other industries, which traditionally have a slower pace when adopting new technologies.
One sector where RFID is still in its infancy is manufacturing. For the technology to work in industrial automation and control environments, RFID receivers need to be able to communicate with existing hardware devices like programmable logic controllers (PLCs), programmable automation controllers (PACs) and input/output (I/O) systems.
Current technology allows RFID readers to send the data they get from tags to the computers that control existing manufacturing equipment. Perhaps the next step towards the Smart factory is creating a direct link between the RFID system and the manufacturing equipment itself.
In a manufacturing environment, an RFID tag could identify a part, distinguish it from similar parts and provide instructions for the next stage of the process. For example, a robotic screwdriver could receive torque specification instructions from a tag located in a mobile phone case, a car stereo or any other product the screwdriver might help assemble. This system would allow for more flexible manufacturing and would facilitate the simple and cheap creation of batches of one.
Finally, another benefit of using RFID in industry refers to validation and regulatory compliance. One example comes from the pharmaceutical industry, where the Food and Drugs Administration in the US requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to keep electronic records of the entire process. This procedure provides a reliable trail for drugs and proves that raw ingredients are stored in the correct conditions.
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