Full-bodied RFID system helps hotelier manage wine inventory
Buckle-on RFID tags make short work of stocktaking at Tokyo resort hotel.
By Ben Ames
When managers at the Tokyo Baycourt Club Hotel & Spa Resort needed a better system for tracking the bottles in their wine cellar, they turned to a technology that may be new to the hospitality industry but will be familiar to logistics managers everywhere: radio-frequency identification, or RFID.
Located in Tokyo's Odaiba entertainment district, the resort hotel stocks roughly 5,000 bottles of wine for its restaurants, bars, and lounges. Before the switch to RFID, stocktaking operations required sommeliers to carefully handle each bottle and enter the details manually into the purchasing system. In a bid to streamline operations, the hotel began a search for a faster and more accurate inventory management system. After evaluating various alternatives, it chose an RFID-enabled inventory management system from automatic identification (auto-ID) solutions provider Sato Material Co. Ltd.
The solution Sato developed for the hotel includes buckle-on RFID tags that can be attached to wine bottles of virtually any size. Specially engineered for use with liquids, the ultra-high-frequency (UHF) tags allow for error-free reads from as far away as 20 inches, according to the manufacturer. Because the tags are not directly affixed to the bottles, there is no effect on the wine quality. As an added measure of protection for what is often high-value merchandise, the RFID tags are paired with security labels to prevent them from falling off or being replaced.
Nowadays, there's no more need for manual recordkeeping. With the new system, workers are able to scan multiple bottles via contactless operation and automatically register inventory in the hotel's purchasing system.
So far, the resort has tagged about 10,000 bottles with the reusable tags—a process that requires about 10 minutes per 12-bottle case, according to Sato. The result has been a drastic drop in stocktaking time, it reports. At one restaurant in the resort, two workers previously spent eight hours apiece (16 hours total) on stocktaking. After the upgrade, the task only required one staffer and two hours, for an 88-percent labor savings.
"Thanks to the RFID system, we were able to both streamline our painstaking stocktaking processes and reduce the number of mistakes from human error," Tokyo Baycourt Club head of operations Katsuhiro Kawamura said in a statement. "It also improves accuracy of inventory management by allowing us to see inventory right away, which minimizes our risk of lost bottles. We are looking at using RFID for other products and expanding the system to hotels in the future."
About the Author
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.
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