Clothing distributor fits shipments for Wal-Mart with radiofrequency tags

Alpha Distribution of Pottsville, Penn. ships goods for a sister company, Alpha Mills, that makes clothing. Wal-Mart is a major customer. Alpha was identified as one of the “next 200” companies required to put RFID tags on goods shipped to Wal-Mart distribution centres starting early this year.

So the company turned to NCR Corp. to help it get set up to tag pallets and cases for shipping to the giant retailer.

At present, Alpha Distribution is only tagging shipments to Wal-Mart, says Bruce Jones, chief information officer and director of logistics. However, Jones says his company expects it can do more with RFID and get some business benefits for itself.

The first step will probably be to scan RFID tags on outbound shipments to confirm that everything is on the truck that should be. “We do all that manually today,” Jones says, so there is a significant potential for savings. He expects to start using RFID for shipment confirmation once Wal-Mart has implemented RFID at enough of its distribution centres that Alpha has sufficient tagged shipments going out to make it worthwhile.

RFID could also help Alpha track the location and movement of goods within its own warehouses, which would reduce labour costs and help the company get shipments out faster, Jones says. And if the company’s overseas materials suppliers can be persuaded to tag their shipments to Alpha, the company could streamline its receiving.

“We will be doing studies over the next few months and years on these,” Jones says.

He says implementing RFID has been a fairly painless experience. Jones was concerned that the wire in underwire bras might cause interference problems for RFID readers, but it hasn’t. He adds he would like better access to data that Wal-Mart collects as it receives Alpha’s shipments, but says he understands the retailer is in the midst of a massive undertaking and expects the back-end systems will improve over time.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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