Moving a roll of cloth destined for military uniforms from manufacturer to warehouse to fabricator has been, until recently, a time-consuming, labor-intensive process. The introduction of automatic identification—specifically Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)—has transformed it.
Manufacturing employees used to handwrite each cloth roll’s data onto manually attached tags. At the warehouse, employees would copy each roll’s information onto a sheet by hand and then type it into a spreadsheet. When the warehouse received an order, someone had to search the spreadsheet to identify the oldest roll with the right yardage.
Now the manufacturer places RFID tags on every roll. “We track each roll through three different steps in the manufacturing cycle. When it comes time to load the trucks up for shipment, we’re actually reading each individual roll in a bundle as the forklift is driving by. We can tell them exactly which rolls are being loaded onto the truck for each order,” said Tom O’Boyle, director of RFID for MHI member Barcoding, Inc., which developed the system.
The unloading and data collection at the warehouse now takes 40 minutes instead of the previous 30-plus hours. Warehouse staff know exactly how to locate the right roll for each order, and they use an RFID ship confirm to ensure that each truck gets loaded correctly. All of this information, from manufacture to shipping, is automatically stored in an online database.
“Through that whole supply chain they are not barcoding or scanning anything, not writing anything down,” said O’Boyle. “It is purely an RFID-read event. The government can validate when the cloth was made, how it was made, where it was shipped, when it was shipped, where it was received, where it was put away and where it was shipped out again.” The next step will be adding RFID reading capabilities to the uniform fabricator.
This is the future of the supply chain—the Internet of Things. The U.S. Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics predicts that “by 2025, sensors that automatically communicate with the Internet without human intervention could be almost ubiquitous.”
By Mary Lou Jay