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  RFID and Automatic Identification Focus: Our Weekly Feature Article on Topics of Interest to those Using or Considering RFID or other Auo ID Technologies  
 
 
  - November 6, 2007 -  

RFID News: What are the Options for RFID-enabling your Warehouse Management System?

 
 

Unless You are starting from Scratch, there are no Easy Answers; Four Options to Consider

 
 

 

SCDigest Editorial Staff

SCDigest Says:
Companies need to avoid upgrading too early, before their longer term needs are clear or the WMS vendor’s product has full RFID support. Otherwise, they may end up upgrading twice.

What do you say? Send us your comments here

At some point, consumer goods and other companies will begin requiring RFID support in their Warehouse Management Systems. As we noted in a previous column, almost no company currently has an installed WMS that has RFID support.

So what should you do? (For a detailed discussion of RFID and WMS, see our Supply Chain Videocast on Understanding the RFID-enabled WMS). We look at the options below.

New Implementations Have More Options – If the Right Questions are Asked

Companies looking at a new WMS have an advantage – they can look for vendors that have strong RFID support today even if they don’t have immediate plans to use RFID in their distribution centers.

However, many companies only put a couple of very general line items on in their WMS RFIs/RFPs – which generally amount to asking the vendor if they support WMS. Surprise – the answer will usually be Yes. The same holds true for analyzing RFID support in vendor demos.

“I am surprised at how little effort nearly every company is putting into identifying future RFIF requirements,” said SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore. “When they finally start to use RFID, they may find getting the WMS support is hard, impossible or expensive.”

 
 
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Understanding the Options for Existing DCs

Companies with existing facilities and installed Warehouse Management Systems need to look at a different set of options.

At a summary level, a company that wants to use RFID in its distribution center has four options:

  • Put a separate layer of software on top of the existing WMS: While this option has its own set of issues, it is in fact the approach taken by one of the very few warehouse systems to actually use RFID today – the International Paper warehouse in Texarkana, Texas.

Dean Frew, CEO of RFID systems integrator Xterprise, recently told SCDigest that “We are seeing interest in companies bolting RFID systems underneath and integrated with WMS/ERP more than replacing WMS or upgrading their WMS…too big and hairy.”

This option is particularly viable for companies with home grown WMS systems.

  • Modify the existing WMS: Can the installed WMS be modified to be RFID-enabled? That depends on what is there as the basis, and how extensively you plan on using RFID.

“What’s important is to not get into an endless loop of very expensive mods,” said Gilmore. “Whatever you need today, you’ll need more functionality tomorrow.”

  • Upgrade Your Current WMS: This is the option that many companies will ultimately choose; however, companies need to both assess the true level of RFID support in the current version of the vendor’s WMS, and the costs involved.

Companies need to avoid upgrading too early, before their longer term needs are clear or the WMS vendor’s product has full RFID support. Otherwise, they may end up upgrading twice.

The issue is also complicated for companies that have multiple distribution centers, as the total cost of upgrading may be very high.

  • Use the RFID Requirements as the Catalyst for Opening Up the WMS Vendor Decision: Ultimately, a fully RFID-enabled WMS will be a much different solution than the bar code based systems installed today. “Event-driven” RFID processing will be key, along with the ability to understand the “context” of a tag read and a corresponding level of WMS intelligence.

These changes may be so significant that the best choice is to take a fresh look at long-term WMS platforms.

So, there are the options. More detail on this topic soon.

What do you think companies should do with regards to RFID-enabling their WMS? What are the key determining factors? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

 
     
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