RFID Inventory Solutions

How RFID Technology Resolved Inventory Tracking Headaches

by jdelozier

How RFID Technology Resolved Inventory Tracking Headaches

Viking Products Inc.In order to maintain an edge in today’s highly competitive manufacturing environment it is critical to have highly efficient and accurate processes and to execute orders accurately, deliver on time, and at an competitive price. So when Viking Products discovered that some critical manual processes were causing inventory to become misplaced and that this was causing delays in order fulfillment, they turned to their ERP vendor (Plex) for help. To help solve the problem in the right way, the first time around, Plex referred them to Cumulus Consulting for an integrated RFID solution.

The Problem

Viking Products is a leading supplier of high quality, affordable parts and components to the automotive and industrial manufacturing industry. Prior to contacting Cumulus, Viking was using industry-standard mobile scanning equipment coupled with their cloud-based ERP system when receiving inventory, a process that left opportunity for human error. They began having problems when inventory was being put away and the location was either manually logged incorrectly in their ERP, or even worse, not logged at all. This caused difficulty later with proper fulfillment of orders, which led to expediting additional materials from suppliers and/or to customers, extra cycle counting, and ultimately the loss of production time and profits.

Viking Products turned to Cumulus to integrate RFID technology with their existing ERP using the latest technology and portable devices to automate inventory management and optimize their operations.

The Goals

It was critical to Viking Products that they sustain their ranking as a top supplier to their existing customers and also have the ability to acquire new business opportunities. The right solution needed to provide:

  • Higher accuracy during inventory cycle counting
  • Improved traceability of product throughout their facility
  • Clearer inventory visibility to achieve the highest level of customer satisfaction and on-time delivery
  • Seamless integration with their ERP (Plex Online)

Unique Challenge

At the time this project took place, RFID technology was not yet widely used for inventory management in the manufacturing industry, and Cumulus was ready to tackle this challenge. Cumulus conducted extensive research to identify the best solution for the problem. This involved experimentation with technology from Zebra, ThingMagic, Alien, Samsung, and several other vendors to identify the best hardware to support the solution.

Another challenge was the fact that Viking’s ERP could not generate RFID encoded tags. To address this, Cumulus conducted several tests with standard RFID tags and “on metal” tags to find the best solution. Then they developed functionality to augment the ERP to ensure seamless integration of the native mobile application they developed to facilitate the RFID inventory management process itself.

The Cumulus Solution

In order to seamlessly integrate RFID technology with Viking’s ERP, Cumulus developed an easy-to-use native Android application called MFGX that runs on a ruggedized Android tablet. This intuitive application automates a number of processes that were previously manual for Viking Products. Using a combination of RFID readers, antennas, and Android tablets, the system is mounted to Viking Products’ forklifts. It quickly identifies inventory and automatically enters its location information into the ERP, eliminating the need for manual updates.

Viking Products is now also using RFID technology to simplify the creation and reconciliation of master units on the shop floor. In addition to RFID, Cumulus provided other mobile apps such as pick list and mobile shipping applications to greatly improve workflow and help automate and integrate otherwise cumbersome processes.

How the Solution Works

Viking receives a product from a supplier into their ERP system.
Using an application developed by Cumulus, an RFID-capable paper label is generated at the time of receipt and attached to the pallet of the product.
A material handler picks up the pallet and one of two antenna mounted to the fork lift reads the RFID label to determine the part number and quantity the handler has picked up.

The second antenna mounted on the forklift “listens” for a location. The locations in the warehouse are also identified with RFID encoded labels.
These labels indicate to the antenna on the forklift what that location is.
Once the antenna on the forklift comes in contact with the location label on the rack, the “move” transaction is automatically facilitated within the ERP system.

The Results

Viking Products is now experiencing 100% inventory accuracy as a result of the applications Cumulus developed to integrate RFID technology with their ERP, saving potentially tens of thousands of dollars a month. More accurate inventory locations also means fewer physical inventory and cycle counts, saving both production time and needless effort.

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