RFID Slap-and-ship Applications

By: Gary Randall

Typically, designing and deploying radio frequency identification (RFID) applications is a lengthy and detailed process requiring input from specialists in multiple fields. Consequently, many small to medium-sized businesses intrigued by the technology find that they are unable to develop a business justification that will offset the costs of both planning and implementing an RFID solution, despite the falling prices of RFID tags and equipment.

Unfortunately, not all businesses have a choice when it comes to integrating RFID into their business processes. Mandates set forth by the Department of Defense (DoD) and Wal-Mart demand that certain suppliers label their goods with standardized RFID tags. Not surprisingly, suppliers whose only motivation to use RFID technology is to comply with such mandates are interested in meeting the requirements with minimal expenditures of time, effort, and resources. This situation is so prevalent that its solution is now commonly referred to as "slap-and-ship" or "tag-and-ship".

Slap-and-ship RFID applications are just what they sound like: placing an RFID tag or smart label on the items and shipping them to the customer(s) (e.g., Wal-Mart) who wanted the items tagged. In addition to allowing businesses to avoid making a large capital investment, tag-and-ship solutions require little or no software integration with existing warehouse management applications. (They can, however, be integrated if desired.)

RFID slap and ship usually takes place in a warehouse staging area and consists of two activities: encoding the tags with data and then applying the tags to the cases and pallets to be shipped.

Encoding RFID Tags with RFID Printers

RFID tags can be encoded with data either prior to or following the application of the tags to cases or pallets. The former method is the most common and involves using an RFID-enabled barcode printer to encode the data on the tag. RFID printers automatically test each tag and write the data, in the appropriate standardized format, before it's printed. Note that it's important to employ an RFID printer/encoder that uses a communications protocol that is compatible with the tags (e.g., Class 0, 0+, or 1).

The second option for encoding RFID tags is to do so with an RFID reader after the tags have been applied to the cases and/or pallets. This method, however, is generally not used because it takes a lot more time and power to write data to an RFID tag than it does to read data, and the materials in the RF field can adversely affect the reader's ability to encode the data. Furthermore, the time required to write data may force the conveyor speed to be reduced.

Applying RFID Tags to Cases and Pallets

Tags may be attached to items in one of two ways: manually or automatically. Manual application is ideal for tagging items that are shipped in small quantities, but this approach may not be as effective as it sounds, particularly in situations where the position of the SKU is important. Because a half-inch difference in position can affect the SKU's performance, warehouse workers applying the tags would need to apply the tags with great precision, which is not a realistic expectation.

Alternatively, RFID-encoded tags may be applied through an automated process, which is perfect for systems that involve high precision and/or high volume. Automatic tag applicators are capable of achieving placement with 1-mm precision. They can also automate the encoding of the tags.

Summary

Tag-and-ship is an adequate solution for small to medium-sized companies that need to comply with RFID mandates but cannot justify an investment in a comprehensive, long-term RFID solution. Companies that choose the slap-and-ship approach need to consider how they will encode and apply the RFID tags to cases and pallets. In the majority of instances, the most sensible solution is to encode the tags prior to their application and automate both processes if possible.

Technology
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Technology