As you may know, though Sew What? has been around for many years, our sister company Rent What? is still relatively young (our 4th anniversary was July 2013). Despite the company’s youth, we have seen many changes throughout the years, as we constantly work on ways to improve our processes and the customer’s experience.
One area that has seen a number of improvements is in the tracking of inventory. When Rent What? first began in 2009, our inventory was fairly small (mostly black masking drapes), and so our system of tracking inventory was fairly simple. But as the years went on and the company grew (and our inventory grew along with it), we realized we needed better processes to manage inventory control. We needed to know exactly what was in the building at all times, what items were out on which rental orders, and which items had just been returned and were in the inspection process.
Our first step was to purchase a more robust rental software, and to barcode all of our rental inventory items. That choice proved successful for a few years, but of course there were still occasional inventory discrepancies – not a lot, but more than we liked. A warehouse staff member might forget to scan a bar code, for example, on an incoming or outgoing order, making it appear that an item wasn’t shipped to a customer, or that the customer didn’t return an item. So we started looking for an even better solution for managing our inventory.
Through the hard work and diligence of our Warehouse / Technical Manager, Rick Garcia, and CFO / Technical Director Adam Duckett, RFID was selected as the best method to track our inventory. Several months ago, the decision was made to implement RFID tracking, and since then, we have been retrofitting our inventory with the tags. Now, the project is nearly complete, with only a few items out on longer rental orders missing RFID tags (which will be added to those inventory items when they are returned).
When Rick and Adam first proposed RFID, I had heard of the term, but I didn’t know much about it. I now know much more, thanks to Rick’s tutelage, and so I thought I would pass on the information to our blog readers.
What is RFID?
RFID stands for “Radio Frequency Identification.” RFID tags are intelligent bar codes that can talk to a networked system to track every product. RFID tags communicate with an electronic reader that will detect items almost instantly. We are using Passive RFID tags, which are coded to the inventory control number of the rental inventory item and then sewn into the hem of the rental drape or otherwise attached to the rental item.
What are Passive RFID Tags?
Passive RFID tags rely entirely on the reader as their power source. Passive Tags work as follows:
- Data stored within an RFID tag’s microchip waits to be read.
- The tag’s antenna receives electromagnetic energy from an RFID reader’s antenna.
- Using power harvested from the reader’s electromagnetic field, the tag sends radio waves back to the reader.
- The reader picks up the tag’s radio waves and interprets the frequencies as meaningful data.
- The readers that we use are keyboard wedge-type devices.
What is a keyboard wedge?
A keyboard wedge is an interface which allows a non-keyboard device to plug into a computer as though it were sending keyboard data. Since most data-entry software is set up to take data from a keyboard, it is necessary to use a keyboard wedge if you want to utilize a peripheral such as an RFID reader and have it send information to the program. A keyboard wedge is so called because the physical version “wedges” between the keyboard and the computer. The keyboard is plugged into the wedge, which in turn is plugged into the computer, so that data may be inputted through either the keyboard or the other peripheral.
Why did we decide to use a keyboard wedge device?
Using wedge type devices allows us to use our current inventory management system without the need for intermediate software. Not using the intermediate software allows our system to update in real time and will notify us of any problems immediately.
What other benefits have we discovered since implementing RFID inventory tracking?
Using RFID allows us to scan the complete order as it is leaving or entering the building, so we are able to verify that all the drapes have actually been loaded on the truck as an order leaves or have been received into our building as an order is being returned.