Did You Know? It Takes Just a Few Seconds to Turn Your Workers’ Mobile Computers into RFID Readers

And, once they snap on the new Zebra RFD40 UHF RFID Standard Sled, they’ll be able to instantly pinpoint, sort through, and report on thousands of tagged items.

A woman uses a Zebra mobile computer equipped with an RFD40 UHF RFID Standard Sled to take inventory of a hotel linen closet
by Eric Malmed
July 14, 2021

Most tasks today are a race against time, and nearly every organization is battling data accuracy issues – especially when it comes to inventory. That’s why radio frequency identification (RFID) solutions have become so popular amongst the largest and smallest businesses alike. More than 20 billion RFID tag integrated circuits (IC) were sold worldwide in 2020, with approximately 65% going to the retail sector.

It takes a long time to scan the barcode of every item in stock to find “the right one” or reconcile inventory management system data against shelf stock. And using pen and paper checklists to conduct quarterly or even yearly cycle counts takes hours, if not days. Considering that workers don’t even have minutes to spare in today’s on-demand world, the investment in RFID technology has been easy to justify – especially since the introduction of RFID sleds that can add RFID capability to mobile computers.

What We Did Then – and What We’re Doing Now – Will Make Everything Inventory Related So Much Easier in the Future

In 2016, when Zebra first launched the RFD8500 UHF RFID Sled, we wanted to help retail associates find and count inventory far faster than they had in the previous decades. Customer satisfaction levels and sales volumes depended on it. There was a tech revolution unfurling, disrupting the traditional retail model, and the on-demand economy was erupting in nearly every aspect of life. Those who couldn’t get customers what they wanted, when they wanted it, were at a competitive disadvantage. So, we had to make it easier for our customers to track, and therefore reorder, everything from sporting goods to sunglasses. 

Then we noticed a pattern emerging across nearly every sector, including hospitality and healthcare – a need for greater inventory visibility and critical asset tracking outside traditional supply chain environments. Restaurants, hotels, and hospitals aren’t necessarily selling products off the shelf like traditional retailers, yet they do maintain quite an extensive shelf inventory of supplies. The same is true of public safety agencies. Without easy insight into availability or utilization, it can be hard to ensure the right items are always on hand to meet customer expectations, whether providing meals, a relaxing vacation experience, or medical treatment. It can also be challenging to improve operational readiness. (Just ask the Pasco County Fire Rescue team.)

So, we’ve worked diligently over the last five years to understand how we can make RFID accessible to all organizations that need insight into inventory lifecycles and their assets and help extend the lifespan of today’s RFID-related technology investments for years to come. And I’m excited to announce we’ve come up with a solution that provides universal accessibility to RFID, extreme flexibility in use, and impressive investment longevity!

Why the New Zebra RFD40 UHF RFID Sled May Be the Last Sled You’ll Have to Buy for a While, (Even If Your Business Grows Quickly)

Fixed RFID readers aren’t feasible in every facility or warranted in every situation. And not everyone wants to spend the money on standalone handheld RFID readers for workers who may not be conducting around-the-clock inventory counts or searches. Yet, the value proposition for RFID is growing in almost every sector, as is the availability of mobile computers that can easily be adapted for RFID applications. That’s what compelled us to design an RFID sled in the first place.

Most businesses are using mobile computers in some capacity within their four walls – or planning to do so in the very near future, and this snap-and-go accessory makes it easy to transform a handheld mobile computer into a handheld RFID reader in mere seconds. Store associates, restaurant staff, nurses, and even the hotel concierge – all of whom are constantly on the move – can attach the sled adaptor to their Android™ mobile computer when needed and remove it when the inventory count is done or they’ve found what they’re looking for. No tools or special training necessary.

However, legacy RFID sleds only offered a Bluetooth connection to mobile computers, which we ultimately learned wasn’t always desired. (Many customers want to avoid the Bluetooth pairing process and prefer a physical electronic connection to the mobile computer that is more secure and easier to use.) We also found out just how important it is to be able to charge the RFID sled, mobile computer or combination of both in the same cradle slot. (No one wants to have to manage, store and plug into multiple chargers if they can help it.) Plus, customers have made it clear just how much they would value a forward-compatible RFID sled that can work with future generations of Zebra mobile computers.  

So, the RFD40 sled, which will support Zebra's current mobile computers as well as new mobile computers as they come out, has been engineered to deliver every single one of these recently realized requirements!  You don’t have to send the sled back to IT for retrofitting, either. When you’re ready to upgrade your mobile computers, just swap out the sled adaptor and cup on each device and cradle. Again, no tools are needed, and no one will need to hassle with plugging or unplugging any wire harnesses.

Once the sled is attached, it will only take users a second or two to confirm what inventory and assets you have on hand. Literally. The new RFD40 can read up to 1300+ tags per second! That’s huge! In a minute, one person can accurately account for 78,000 different items! Even if you have 10 times that many items on hand, it will still only take a fraction of the time it does now to complete a full inventory count or locate critical items or assets. That’s incredible when you think about how long it would otherwise take someone to individually scan each barcoded box or piece of equipment.

The Takeaway

RFID has opened our eyes to things we would otherwise miss – much like the barcode did when it was first invented. Businesses that aren’t yet looking at RFID for everyday inventory track and trace or the daily and weekly cycle counts that have become common are missing out on the opportunity to improve operational performance, supply chain resilience, and customer satisfaction. We’ve seen what happens when we lose sight of inventory throughput – and inventory that is still sitting on the shelf…somewhere. If you don’t think RFID is a tech tool within reach for your business, know things have changed tremendously in the last few years. (Really, the last few months.) If you use Zebra mobile computers in some way to conduct business, it is absolutely possible for you to fast-track RFID solution implementation without a heavy lift. Plus, with the improvements we made to the RFD40 UHF RFID Standard Sled, you can continuously modernize your mobility solution as needed in the coming years without disrupting any of the RFID-powered inventory management processes you stand up today. You can even use multiple mobile computers with the same sled if you maintain a mixed device fleet —and charge all mobile computers and RFID sleds using the same cradles. Just attach the appropriate cradle cup and you’ll be ready to plug in.

Did I mention the RFD40 also has a 7000mAh battery and quick release function that's accessible without removing the mobile computer? Or that its tri-function trigger allows users to quickly read RFID tags, scan barcodes, and collaborate with an associate via push to talk? It can even be dynamically programmed based on the specific task being worked on!

In other words, workers who may spend all day retrieving inventory from the warehouse for store shelf – or firetruck supply – replenishment will have no problem charging through tasks uninterrupted, even if they are switching between multiple types of tasks and device tools.

If you’ve yet to deploy an RFID solution and think the RFID sled might be just what you need to improve inventory visibility, or you’re just looking for a handheld solution that will be compatible with your current and future mobile computers, I encourage you to give us a call. You can also learn more about the RFD40’s design and capabilities on our website.

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*Editor’s Note:

The Zebra RFD40 UHF RFID Standard Sled is currently compatible with all Zebra eConnex™-equipped (8-pin) mobile computers, including WWAN-enabled versions.

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Eric Malmed
Eric Malmed is a member of the Zebra Technologies product management team with subject matter expertise in RFID technology. He's responsible for Zebra’s RFID fixed readers, sleds, integrated handhelds, and antennas, and has been instrumental to the successful development, launch, modernization, and growth of Zebra’s RFID data capture solutions portfolio.
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