Essintial℠ deployed the RFID system at its 30,000-square-foot warehouse in Lewisberry. The solution is designed to track parts from when they are received at the warehouse and stored in various inventory locations, including “good” and “defective” bins and shelves, through their relocation to the depot repair, the clean room and then the shipping area. The facility has 10 fixed RFID readers from Motorola Solutions (now Zebra Technologies), including two at the shipping dock, two at the receiving dock, two leading into the repair depot, two into the defective part area, and two into the good inventory area. Antennas, also supplied by Motorola, were deployed to receive the RFID tag’s signal. Equipment is often rolled in on carts, and the antennas can read tags from a couple of inches off the ground to at least 6 feet high. Parts are identified using passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency Squiggle labels from Alien Technology. The tag information includes the manufacturer part number, Essintial part number, description, RFID unique tag number, serial number, bin or shelf location, and warranty expiration date.
Article via Bob Violino
The path to RFID tracking
Essintial has created a Managed WorkForce® solution to provide visibility into its nationwide network of full-time, part-time and contracted field technicians, each with varying skills and areas of expertise. This enables Essintial to ensure that the technician best suited for a particular job is dispatched.
But it’s also important that field technicians have the parts they need, when and where they need them. To that end, Essintial deployed a radio frequency identification solution in late 2013 to improve inventory control throughout its logistics processes. The company has a central stocking warehouse, in Lewisberry, PA, where it performs staging, imaging and some repair work. Previously, parts were tracked manually via the company’s enterprise resource planning system. Several warehouse workers were responsible for updating inventory location as parts moved through the various stages of the warehouse and depot repair.
The RFID deployment has led to a host of benefits, including improved levels of customer service, increased inventory accuracy and visibility, increased productivity, reduced labor costs, improved depot space utilization, real-time reporting capabilities, and the ability to track parts on demand.”
Anita Weissman, Project Executive
Project Lifecycle & Challenges
To deploy the system, Essintial set up a cross-functional team. “The tracking and accuracy of our inventory touches almost every team in the organization,” Weissman states, “and we had to ensure that all of the inputs and outputs to the process were represented and their requirements were being met.” The team consisted of a project manager, an IT business process analyst, an IS programmer, an IT hardware technician, and experts in parts planning, inventory control, depot repair and purchasing/warehouse. The team also sought input from experts in invoicing, accounting, and call center and help desk. “We had both the CIO and our general manager act as joint executive sponsors,” Weissman says. “Having all of those functions represented was critical to the success of the team in understanding upstream and downstream processes and impacts. The cross-functional team typically met twice per week during the duration of the project,” Weissman says, “and our vendor was onsite for about five weeks during different points of the project.” The system was functional by the end of 2013.
“Converting our warehouse of 30,000-plus parts to RFID tags has been a time-consuming process and took several months, so we did the implementation in a phased approach,” Weissman says. “Our warehouse consists of everything from one-inch parts to six-foot-tall kiosks and everything in between.” The main challenge of the implementation, Weissman says, involved obtaining accurate cycle counts, due to the varied type and size of inventory. “We found that we needed to adjust how items were shelved to ensure the RFID tags could be read,” she explains. “We had to put very stringent processes in place as to how to tag specific items—either on the part itself, on the outside of the box or in some cases a plastic bag containing the part.” For instances in which there might be 200 parts in a box, for example, “we could not just use the handheld reader for the cycle count because we had accuracy issues,”
The RFID system “allows us to always have visibility of the inventory and its location, even if it’s not where it’s expected to be,” Weissman states. “We have greatly reduced lost inventory, because the system shows where a particular part is located at any time. We also have greater visibility into parts that are in process, so we know what stage they are in and the turnaround time to get [parts] out the door.”
The system has also enhanced the cycle-counting process, Weissman reports. “We were spending a great deal of time conducting physical inventories twice per year, which were very labor intensive” she recalls. The company now conducts cycle counts on problem areas on a weekly or monthly basis to confirm accuracy. “This is easy to do now, with the RFID technology and smart tables. We are able to wand the area with the handheld scanner and get counts of parts by shelf and bin location. The handheld will also alert us to parts being in the wrong location.”