Wireless communication has not only change workplace communication between individuals within the same office but has also changed the nature of communication between different parts of the supply chain. This mean communication between distribution center and store managers along with that between those two and the inventory they manage. The two main leading technologies in this specific area of wireless communication is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Global Positioning System (GPS).
RFID is the use of small radio transmitters to keep track of the objects they are attached to. RFID are no bigger than a grain of rice and a relatively cheap to buy. They are effective within 300 meters of a RFID transmitter. GPS is a large piece of equipment that is used to track objects. Since the increase of commercial use, GPS units have become extremely cost efficient with prices ranging around $100 a unit. The satellite system that is used with GPS is made up of a total of 27 satellites, of which 24 are in use and 3 remain as back-ups in case of satellite failure.
Both technologies are beginning to be used in innovative ways to communicate inventory within the supply chain. The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University has done recent studies on the increased use of these wireless technology as a way to substitute the traditional forms of inventory management. RFID is being used within distribution centers and brick-and-mortar stores in order to keep track of the different pieces of inventory moving around inside the building or out of it. These work given the fixed size of the space and the unplanned movement of inventory inside a store when being moved by customers. GPS is used to manage the large truck fleets that many major retailers use to transport products from distribution centers to brick-and-mortar stores.
The capabilities of these technologies to connect the physical layer and information layer of operations alters the traditional communication in these business area. If a product was lost in the store as a result of being wrongly shelved by a customer, in the past the only option was having an employee search the shelves to locate it but with RFID that problem no longer exists. Employees are able to locate the product and save man hours searching for it. This system also allows to ensure products aren’t stolen because the current systems in most stores can only identify thief through the main entrances but the RFID can function and track the movement through all exits in real time. GPS also alters communication between truck drivers and the distribution center/brick-and-mortar stores by giving real time location without needing to pull over to give periodic check-ins over the phone. GPS ping systems can be established to ping very often if the product is high value and less often if the product is lover cost. As a result the tracking is more exact from products who exact location are more important to communicate to the necessary managers.
As these two types of technology increase in sophistication and become more ingrained in supply chain systems, we will see these person to person communication and greater efficiency. This leaves the managers in the supply chains to focus more on their employees and suffer less from the information overload from keeping track of thousands of products.