Inventory management: from RFID to the #2 pencil

There are many choices to assemble the right supply chain solution.


There are many choices to assemble the right supply chain solution.For manufacturers, effective inventory management is a key piece of supply chain efficiency and accuracy. Yet, with numerous solutions on the market, evolving technology, and increased emphasis on running “lean,” plant managers and materials handling professionals face the challenge of determining which inventory management method to implement.

From a very basic level, there are three chief methods of managing and controlling inventory. The first and most rudimentary method is manual data entry (essentially, pencil and paper), while the other two—barcodes and RFID (radio frequency identification)—involve automated data capture technologies.

But, before we dive into each of these methods, we need to take a step back. With so many new and exciting technologies on the market, it is easy to get wrapped up in a trend and say something like, “RFID is the latest and greatest way to track our inventory, so I’m going to put RFID tags on all of my products.” Force-fitting a solution just because it sounds like a viable option, or because everyone else is using it, is a detrimental idea.

Before you purchase a new infrastructure, stick on a barcode label, or sharpen a fresh box of No. 2 pencils, you often need to start at the very beginning. It is vital that you first perform an operational assessment or process review to define your business objectives and identify exactly what you are trying to achieve.

Perform an operational assessment

In performing your operational assessment, you must look at three pieces of the puzzle: process, people, and technology. Think of these pieces as a three-legged stool. All three are of equal importance to your overall operation. So, if your process is defective (for example, you have multiple touch points for outbound transactions, like separate packing and shipping stations), implementing a piece of technology will not fix it and will only reinforce the existing poor practices in your supply chain.

Also, while you are observing your processes, make sure to pinpoint any steps that are superfluous. If a process does not add value to your intended end result, remove it. Your customer only cares about receiving the order in a timely and accurate manner, so all other steps in the process are just “noise” to the customer. The steps you take should ensure proper delivery.

Next, consider your people. If you are going to end up introducing new technology to your process, like adding barcode scanning to your process for taking inventory levels, you need buy-in from not only upper management, but those who will be using the technology. Getting everyone on the same page, giving them a voice, and demonstrating why you are introducing these changes will position you for a successful implementation.

Once you have an understanding of your problem and your business goals, you can begin to look at the technology to support your efforts.

Pencil and paper

Despite the breadth of technology available today, some manufacturers still manually manage their inventory with pencil and paper, and then input data into Excel spreadsheets. Manual systems are typically used by organizations that have a smaller footprint.

These manufacturers have smaller facilities (perhaps a single parts room), fewer SKUs, and lower IT budgets, so manual data entry is sufficient. Of course, manual methods open up a greater possibility for human error, and backend data entry can be extremely time consuming and tedious. There is no way of knowing how much inventory is on hand at any given time, where it is, and whether you are picking the right item. There is little to no visibility into inventory levels and materials’ movement, placing greater pressure on employees to operate as accurately and efficiently as possible.

<< First < Previous Page 1 Page 2 Next > Last >>

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Pipe fabrication and IIoT; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
The future of electrical safety; Four keys to RPM success; Picking the right weld fume option
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me