RFID / EPCIS in the Supply Chain: How to Achieve Real-Time View of Stock Levels and Locations

In my last blog, I had taken a closer look at the concept of an EPCIS repository (e.g. Nedap !D Cloud) and how RFID can create stock visibility for brands and retailers. So far, I have predominantly investigated that topic from a “downstream perspective,” which means utilizing (accurate) data from stores to trigger replenishment and refill activities. Now, I want to follow that up with an “upstream perspective,” and take a closer look in to how RFID can be used in logistics; from ‘sheep to shop’ so to speak.

Omnichannel is the Game Changer
Retail is changing fast. The lines between logistics and pure store operations are blurring, as it is necessary to ‘orchestrate’ products across a highly connected distribution network and bring them to the channel where they are most needed. However, the situation in many retailer’s organization is still characterized by many different silos as well as many inefficient manual processes.

To be able to react to shifting demands, brands and retailers need to fully understand the flow of their products. This will allow real-time insights into their processes. This is where RFID and EPCIS (the ‘Electronic Product Code Information Service’ standard) can create end-to-end stock visibility; assuming the products are source-tagged and logistics facilities are equipped with RFID read-points.

Bulk Reading Goes Beyond Labor Savings
It has been 15 years since the Gen2 standard for passive UHF RFID technology was released, which had enabled usage in many applications where “bulk reading” is required. Back then many sectors looked into RFID, especially logistics. The logistics industry was hoping to achieve higher process efficiency by replacing labor-intensive barcode scanning with RFID-enabled bulk reading. However, it was quickly determined the benefits of RFID go far beyond a pure efficiency perspective.

RFID is about total stock visibility. Not only does RFID enable fast scanning, but as each individual item can be easily tracked and traced, a retailer’s supply chain can operate on the foundation of accurate data. This is particularly valuable in the apparel business with its short product life-cycles, high seasonality and the given color/size complexity.

Not Just for the Sake of Technology
Undeniably, RFID helps to seamlessly identify individual products. It is hardly efficient to just replace barcode-processes with RFID. Instead, it has been proven to be successful in finding bottlenecks when RFID read points are integrated with the flow of goods. This is because RFID technology can easily track any movement or status change. Because of this, the following benefits can be realized:

  1. Shipment Verification
    The automated accuracy checking at the item-level of all deliveries and shipments enables distribution centers to operate with accurate stocks.
  2. Shipment Validation
    An RFID-based validation of shipments ensures all deliveries go to the correct destinations. It also enables the user with full traceability (e.g. for return logistics).
  3. Unique Item Tracking
    The ability to know exactly what you have and exactly where it all is can reduce overstocks and enable better timing of replenishment. This ability also provides better data to forecast future demand.

EPCIS Gives Real-Time Insights
Achieving total stock visibility is the foundation for routing the right products at the right time to the right channels. An EPCIS repository, holding all read events from various RFID read points along the whole supply chain, is the easiest and most efficient solution to aggregate stock information from all possible locations.

Make Merchandise Simply Available
In today’s omnichannel world, product availability is a relevant source of value to customers. To respond to customer needs, brands and retailers must know where specific products are along the entire supply chain. A deployment of RFID technology, especially within the fashion industry’s supply chains, provides access to real time item information anywhere within the network.

Interested in learning more? You can either visit the !D Cloud page or contact Tom Vieweger to learn how to improve stock accuracy using RFID.

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About the author: Tom Vieweger

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