Speed, unprecedented accuracy, and a document management process that saves customers time and money, while minimizing the risk of public exposure – these, are some benefits Recall Canada expects from its use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in the records management process.
The company has rolled out an RFID-based document-management system at it facility in Brampton, Ont.
Company officials demoed the new system, Friday, to a clutch of customers – current and prospective – and journalists.
A subsidiary of the Brambles Group, Atlanta, Ga.-based Recall has 78,000 customers in 20 countries.
Earlier this year, Recall unveiled what it said was the industry’s first RFID-enabled document storage and management facility in Northborough, Mass.
Here in Canada, the RFID project at its Brampton facility is also a first for Recall – and the company says it’s already generating interest. “In Canada today we have three customers using RFID,” said Sean O’Brien, Recall’s General Manager of Canadian Operations.
The technology, he said, has not significantly changed the company’s operating procedures or its transactions with customers. Instead of bar code tags, document storage cartons at Brampton facility will now have RFID tags affixed to them.
Each scan- and there are five done in a single pass – by the specially-designed RFID reader validates that the carton is sitting where it should be. All this occurs without visual or manual contact with the cartons, O’Brien said.
Noting that customers would be the chief beneficiaries, he said this fact differentiates the Recall Canada rollout from RFID initiatives by many other companies.
Often RFID programs are “self-serving”, with companies using the technology to reduce their own costs, the Recall Canada executive said. The drivers for the Recall project, he said, are different. “It’s not that we needed some more hi-tech toys, or to find a way to raise prices and lower our labour costs – that’s not it at all.”
Recall Canada’s objective in deploying this technology, he said, was to enhance the inventory audit process, and do it without driving up customer costs significantly.
He said the project was also aimed at helping customers meet regulatory and compliance requirements within their specific sectors.
“Certain markets are facing tighter restrictions and they need to have a complete track on where their information is. Today – more than yesterday your information has a value, and we’re trying to protect that.”
O’Brien noted that there can be significant costs and problems associated with inventory audits conducted using conventional bar code scanning processes.
“We met with a very large institution that had 500,000 cartons in their facility. They were all their own cartons, but it took them more than six months to audit them.”
He said when Recall talked to the company about talked RFID, they immediately saw the value. “[That’s because] they just went through the pain of signing invoices for additional labour costs and identifying whether things were scanned properly and whether the reconciliation process was done correctly, and so on.”
He said the barcode scanning process (that the Brampton facility has used until now) is labour intensive, time-consuming, costly and prone to error.
“To conduct an audit, we would have to go to the rack, locate which bay the carton is in, pull it down, find the bar code, scan the carton, place it back, and then go to the next location to complete the audit.”
Such a manual, bar code, scan of (say) 280 cartons, he said, would normally take around 27 minutes. “With RFID, the same 280 cartons can be scanned in 30 seconds. We could audit this whole facility – which has 2.5 million cartons – in just five days. That’s how quickly this works.”
Recall’s experience notwithstanding, the jury is still out on the question of RFID’s effectiveness vis a vis bar code scanning – and industry observers say many variables need to be considered when choosing between one or the other technology.
For instance, firms such as Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemicals have done several pilot tests on RFID and other location-oriented technologies including traditional bar codes – and the outcomes have been varied.
Early projects have shown that at times – such as when it’s paired with a sensor log to transmit environmental readings during shipments – use of RFID makes sense. But at other times bar codes still prove cheaper and easier.
Both RFID technology and its marketplace are fragmented and slow-moving, analysts say, and costs remain high.
Dow’s “keep your eyes open” approach is the right one, says Colin Masson, a research director at AMR Research. By itself, he says, RFID is still not a strategic technology that CIOs should have high on their agendas. But it can be useful in service of those strategies.
However, in the established retail warehouse and distribution space, where RFID tags are used on pallets and shipping containers – the segment represented by companies such as Recall – RFID has made significant headway.
O’Brien said his company’s goal is to use the new technology to accomplish what he called: “the perfect order.” The term, he said, covers multiple parameters that Recall uses to measure its execution on all customer orders – on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Elements tracked include:
– Whether the order was processed and delivered on time
– Whether the entire process was fulfilled 100 per cent
– Whether execution matched Recall’s standard SOPs.
A 100 per cent score on all these parameters he said, constitutes the perfect order. “This location is currently 98.7 per cent,” he said, adding that the goal with the RFID was to reach 100 per cent.
O’Brien noted that while delivering all these benefits, the RFID rollout will not change the traditional workflow and interaction between Recall Canada and its customers.
From the client’s perspective, he said, the only difference would be in the labels to be placed on the cartons that are picked from their site. “Today on your carton is a little Recall tag, tomorrow there’ll be an RFID tag. So it doesn’t change the process at all; only the label is changed.”
The new system, he said, has also been integrated into Recall Canada’s standard operating procedures.