RFID-based inventory management system delivers efficiencies and cost savings

By Salmon Creek Media & Marketing

Today’s flexo printer can’t afford to have stock-outs. The cost of shutting down a press for lack of the right end seal or doctor blade, or changing the schedule because the right stickyback to mount a job is gone is unacceptable.

The solution is a real-time inventory management system, APR’s SupplySentry, which uses RFID technology with a web-based interface to manage supplies, making sure that a company doesn’t run out of the things that it needs to get everyday work done.

How does it work?

Crucial supply items are stored in an RFID-enabled cabinet that is equipped with an RFID reader and a computer that keeps track of the inventory and sends the data to APR. The cabinet requires standard 110V power and access to the Internet.

For each item to be tracked, minimum, maximum and reorder quantities are established collaboratively between ARR and the customer and entered into the system, ensuring that there are no stock-outs and allowing APR to minimize the amount of inventory dollars for the customer. All new supplies shipped to the company have RFID tags attached, so all that is needed is to put them in the cabinet. Because APR has real-time information on the inventory, they manage the rest.

The cabinet, which comes in a variety of sizes designed to meet companies’ specific needs, continuously tracks what’s in stock and what’s been used. When an item’s quantity reaches its reorder point, an order is automatically generated to replenish that item. With the web-based user interface, a company can tell at a glance what it has in stock at any given time, eliminating the time-consuming manual counting of inventory.

To make sure supplies get used in a timely manner, the inventory management system sends an e-mail alert if an item has been in the cabinet for too long. That way, items don’t end up sitting on shelves for extended periods of time, becoming too old to use. It also allows for the consolidation of shipments to save companies shipping costs.

In addition to the cabinets, customers are now having excellent success using RFID-enabled racking systems and, in one case, an entire room. These options allow companies to more efficiently manage their space requirements and optimize the amount of inventory carried.

Balance supply inventory for better efficiency

Old-fashioned consignment inventory or traditional vendor-managed inventory programs, which rely on human intervention, can result in stock-outs or increased inventory amounts because the system is not operating on a real-time basis. The SupplySentry RFID inventory management system is a real-time system that increases profits and decreases costs by improving visibility (and confidence) into a company’s inventory management system.

Control access to supplies

The RFID-enabled cabinet can be fitted with a biometric lock that requires a fingerprint scan to unlock the doors and controls who can remove items. A company can be sure that the items they can’t run out of will always be in their supply cabinet when they need them.

The benefits

APR’s SupplySentry system improves supply chain reliability, lowers inventory carrying costs, and increases employee efficiency. Integrating this RFID solution into a company’s supply chain means:

• needed supplies are always in stock,

• real-time inventory levels are visible at any time,

• no more manually counting supplies and placing orders,

• no outdated stock sitting on the shelf until it’s useless, and

• controlled access to supplies.

RFID inventory management at work

To understand how RFID inventory management is changing the flexographic pressroom, it helps to take a look at some real-world examples. These companies are currently putting RFID cabinet systems to work in their respective businesses to reduce costs and increase the efficiencies and overall success of their operations.

cei and RFID-based inventory management

cei (www.coatingexcellence.com) is an industry-leading flexible packaging and technical products company specializing in wide-web extrusion coating and laminating of film, foil, paper, board and nonwovens. cei features EB (electronic beam) coating and laminating, wide-web flexographic presses with award-winning 10-color process printing with registered backside print capabilities, offset printing up to four colors, and onsite graphics including design, layout and digital plate production and high definition and expanded gamut printing. cei is also an industry-leading sustainable manufacturer and printer, holds ISO, BRC, chain-of-custody certifications (FSC, SFI, and PEFC) and is one of a limited number of certified Sustainable Green Printers (SGP).

cei decided to move to an RFID-based inventory management system to help make its process more efficient and precise. “It creates accurate information for invoicing, P.O. payments and inventory tracking,” said cei’s Platemaking Coordinator Eric Huth. “It helps remove the human element of mistakes that can occur during the process. We pride ourselves in offering the best quality, service and innovation to our customers. This system helps us uphold that philosophy.

During the installation process, cei worked with APR to determine the proper location and setup of the antennas. “They were great to work with and stopped in as my schedule allowed. There were no specific challenges whatsoever in the installation process. We only needed to reposition some antennas to pick up all the RFID tags,” continued Huth, “and the training required was minimal. APR had the program up and running in no time.”

Today, all of cie’s flexo plate materials, stickyback and a wide selection of press supplies are RFID managed. Huth said that the SupplySentry system is easy to use. Using the RFID system, cei’s inventory management team now has real-time access to the inventory database. Manual counting is a thing of the past, flexo plate materials and stickyback are always in stock, and when inventory levels drop, orders are automatically initiated.

Packaging Specialties manages inventory with RFID

Convenience was the big reason for Packaging Specialties’ (http://packagingspecialties.com) switch to RFID. “It keeps us from having to worry about our inventory management,” said Terry Martin, plate room team leader. “APR takes care of it all now. They monitor when we get low and keep inventory levels where we need them. If we use more than normal, the system automatically keeps up, and we don’t have to worry about running out. We don’t have to be continually checking inventory levels. It’s a good fit for both sides that is working well.”

Packaging Specialties was already ordering supplies from APR when the RFID cabinet system was suggested. The concept was one that they were all more than willing to try once they understood the benefits. Said Martin: “It seemed like a logical move, a no brainer. APR came in and set up the cabinet, which was supplied at no cost to us. On our part, setup required only one maintenance person and one tech person. The installation when smoothly, and there was no special training required.”

According to Martin, the RFID system is easy to use, and there have been no problems since it was installed. When Packaging Specialties had a planned shut down a few months ago, they notified APR and were walked through a manual system shutdown. When the company powered back up, the system came back online without a hiccup. For unexpected power outages, there is a battery backup system.

“Stickyback and glue sticks are now off the floor and in the RFID-controlled cabinet,” Martin said. “We’ve liked the system so much that we’re now looking at expanding inventory control and working with APR to see if we can convert a storage area into an RFID area.”

So what is Packaging Specialties overall opinion of the system? “The SupplySentry is an easy fit,” Martin said. “We’re saving a lot time since we no longer have to periodically do manual inventory counts. Our inventory levels are lower, and someone else is always monitoring and taking care of ordering. Gone are worries about ordering extra supplies if the person normally responsible for inventory management is on vacation. It’s all done automatically. We’re never overstocked with outdated inventory, and we’re never out. Converting to the RFID-managed inventory system is one of the greatest things we’ve ever done. If we could get our entire inventory under RFID control, we would.”

Better inventory control at Plastic Packaging

Plastic Packaging Inc. (http://ppi-hky.com) is a family business with over 50 years of experience in flexible packaging, providing a wide variety of sizes and configurations including bags, pouches, roll stock, and sleeve labels. Their full range of equipment and expertise includes prepress, plate making, printing, laminating, slitting and converting. They have won numerous awards for excellence in flexographic printing and sustainability and are a national leader in protecting the environment and conserving and recycling resources.

When APR contacted Plastic Packaging about the opportunity to move to an RFID-based inventory management system, they were open to the idea. “APR was already using the system,” said William Jenkins, “and we thought that is would work for us. There was an immediate buy-in by our inventory management team.”

Plastic Packaging’s IT department worked with APR during the installation process, which was unique in that the RFID system manages a whole room vs a cabinet, and it went smoothly. “Our only specific challenge,” said Jenkins, “was deciding on where to put the sensors and computer in the room. Now that the system is in place, it is giving us better control of what we have on hand.”

“Today, we use the SupplySentry system to manage backing tapes and doctor blades,” continued Jenkins. “Inventory is RFID controlled by APR, and orders are automatically initiated. It’s a much better way to monitor and control what we have on hand.”

American Packaging improves accuracy and efficiency

American Packaging Corp. (http://ampkcorp.com)

American Packaging Corp. was already an APR customer when the SupplySentry RFID product was introduced, and their inventory management team felt it would be a great tool to manage their inventory needs. “Once we saw the control, accuracy and efficiency of the system, we were convinced,” said Aaron Lowry. “There was immediate buy in.”

American Packaging Corp. employees Steve Moss and Lowry worked with APR during the installation process and had a very positive experience. The installation was “graceful,” according to Lowry, and it has proven to be a great tool in controlling their inventory of stickyback tapes, primer and a wide variety of other tapes.

“The SupplySentry system really is more accurate and efficient,” explained Lowry. “It saves time by eliminating having an employee routinely checking inventory levels and placing orders. With one quick glance at the SupplySentry RFID website, we can easily view and monitor our inventory. Also the rotation of stock according to date is simplified.”

American Packaging Corp. combines award-winning high-definition flexographic printing with adhesive laminating to meet customers’ requirements to package a variety of food, personal care, medical, pharmaceutical, and industrial products. Located in Story City, Iowa, the APC Flexographic Printing, Laminating and Preformed Products Division specializes in producing specification that combine performance with high definition award-winning flexographic printing of up to ten colors. The division specializes in film/film laminations including two- and three-ply adhesive laminations, and in the production of Preformed Bags and Pouches.

About All Printing Resources

All Printing Resources Inc. (APR) is a proven resource for solutions, trusted service, and support to the flexographic printing industry. APR delivers measurable performance enhancements and total cost reductions, including the after sale attention needed to see optimal results. APR represents some of the most innovative product lines worldwide and takes a “team” approach to deliver process improvement and innovative solutions.

To learn more about SupplySentry, contact All Printing Resources at 800-445-4017 or visit www.teamflexo.com/supplysentry/