Tiny chips making life easier for diamond stock-taking and tracking

An initiative by a company called Diamond Services Ltd. to market advanced technological products to the diamond, gem and jewelry industries has once again put the spotlight on the need for the diamond industry to adopt technology as a means of streamlining what has always been a labor-intensive profession. In particular, technology that can carry out a completely accurate stock take of hundreds of smaller diamonds is particularly important.
The Hong Kong-based firm announced in March that it would be marketing GemBox RFID, which it claims is a 100-percent accurate stocktaking technology, in Israel, as well as Hong Kong, China, India and Antwerp. Diamond Services also introduced its low-cost, portable RFID scanning device, which is suitable for use at trade shows and by small scale traders, at the March 5-9 Hong Kong International Jewellery Show. 
Diamonds Services Ltd. co-owner Yosi Kuzi said he was aiming to advance GemBox's products in new markets. "For gem dealers, stocktaking is one of the less enjoyable, time-consuming but necessary chores that are part of their business management routine," Kuzi noted. "But those same diamond, gem or pearl traders can now stock-take 1,000 items in 30 seconds. This is achieved by using GemBox's Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) identification tags, which are small enough for gem industry applications that enable users to track stock and store information about each item. No less important is the issue of thefts which can be further reduced using tagged parcels in a trade show," he added.
Kuzi said that Diamond Services Ltd. Exhibited the RFID product line at the EGL Asia booth at the Hong Kong Gems & Jewellery Fair. "In particular, we showed and demonstrated the portable RFID scanner, a device that will save exhibitors precious time in controlling, tallying up and securing the gems and jewellery they exhibit at shows. At the fair, Diamond Services will also display and sell its successful DiamaPen, a low-cost, pen-shaped pointer that provides highly accurate results in the screening and separation of synthetic diamonds from natural diamonds," he said.
GemBox CEO Jason Ree said he was delighted with the agreement: "With its profound knowledge and its extensive industry network, I am confident that Diamond Services will do a great job in introducing and marketing our technology to the gem and jewellery industry and trade," Ree stated.
The diamond industry is rapidly adopting technological developments to make it more efficient and to streamline operations. In a period of around 20 years, the business has gone from computerized planning for the design, cutting and polishing of rough diamonds polishing stones. As one Israeli diamond company head said: "We take this machinery for granted these days. But most of us who started out in the business in the 1980s had to learn how these machines work and how they could improve our operations. Strange as it may sound now, it was not a given that we would use these machines."
And in the past two-three years, some diamond companies have gone deeply into the field of social networking to assist in the marketing of diamonds, with Facebook being the main program used.
Another technology that is being used with great appreciation is that known as RFID, or Radio-Frequency Identification. Using an object called an RFID tag, this is attached to or placed into the product for the purpose of identification and tracking using radio waves. Increasing numbers of these tags can be read from several meters away and beyond the line of sight of the person tracking the item. Most RFID tags contain at least two parts. One is an integrated circuit for storing and processing information, modulating and demodulating a radio-frequency (RF) signal, and other specialized functions. The second is an antenna for receiving and transmitting the signal.
The RFID device can be seen as serving the same aim as a bar code or a magnetic strip on the back of a credit card or ATM card. That is, it gives a unique identifier for that item. And, just as a bar code or magnetic strip must be scanned to get the information, the RFID device must be scanned to retrieve the identifying information.
RFID technology was developed several decades ago, but it has only been in the past decade that the cost of manufacturing the RFID devices has dropped to levels where they can be used as a "throwaway" inventory or control device. Wal-Mart Stores in the United States, for example, uses sophisticated electronic ID tags to track individual pairs of jeans and underwear to enable better controls over inventory.
The retailer places removable "smart tags" on individual garments that can be read by a hand-held scanner. Wal-Mart employees are thus able to quickly discern which size of a particular company's jeans is missing, thus ensuring that shelves are stocked correctly and inventory tightly watched.
In Israel, technology firm Sarin markets SpaceCode’s Plexus RFID hardware and software solutions for the diamond industry. The hardware automatically scans thousands of diamond parcels or jewelry pieces with minimal human intervention needed. After RFID tags are placed, stock is continuously identified, counted and located in real time.
"This significantly increases the level of accuracy, control, monitoring and security of the rough and polished diamond inventory," Sarin said. "Delays, inefficiencies, bottlenecks and human errors associated with physical counts and manual locating processes" are eliminated and higher inventory management efficiency is achieved.
There are three main sorts of RFID tags: active RFID tags, which contain a battery and can transmit signals autonomously, passive RFID tags, which have no battery and require an external source to provoke signal transmission, and battery assisted passive (BAP) which require an external source to wake up but have significant higher forward link capability providing great read range.
How small can RFID tags be made? Researchers at Bristol University in the UK successfully glued RFID microtransponders to ants in order to study their behavior. It is probable that this trend towards increasingly miniaturized RFID is likely to continue as technology advances. There are few fields of human activity that do not use RFID: governments use RFID applications for traffic management, while automotive companies use various RFID tracking solutions for product management, and toll road operators also use the technology to monitor traffic. Baggage passing through Hong Kong International Airport are individually tagged as they navigate the airport's baggage handling system, which improves efficiency and reduces misplaced items. In addition, libraries, schools and universities, hospitals museums, and even ski resorts are using them.
RFID has many applications, for example, it is used in enterprise supply chain management to improve the efficiency of inventory tracking and management. The technology provides an accurate knowledge of the current inventory. In an academic study performed at Wal-Mart, RFID reduced out-of-stock goods by 30 percent for low-selling products. Other benefits of using RFID include the reduction of labor costs, the simplification of business processes, and the reduction of inventory inaccuracies.
In the diamond trade, the use of RFID technology has most notably been taken up by the Rosy Blue Group – one of the world's largest diamond manufacturers and jewelry makers with operations in 14 countries. With relatively huge amounts of gold and diamonds being used in the various stages of the jewelry life cycle, using RFID technology makes perfect sense. Rosy Blue Diamond jewellery unveiled its RFID initiative at the Dubai International Jewellery Week. The Rosy Blue stand in the exhibition had 7,000 tagged items which were all counted on the hour every hour by an TAGIT RFID Mobile Unit.
Since the jewelry industry by its nature deals in high net worth operations, a system to monitor the items used in the supply chain from raw materials to finished good are high dollar value items. In the Rosy Blue Diamond Jewellery Division, a stock count had to be carried out on a store room with about 20,000 items. Since not all the items could not be counted at once, a stock count was done on smaller lots. For a comprehensive count, staff typically had to come into the premises after office hours and stay through the night to carry out the stock count.
For customer viewing, around 100-200 items were removed from a safe room and then brought back. A detailed item count was not usually not possible due to the high number of customer visits and time constraints.
The solution for Rosy Blue was created by TAGIT RFID Solutions which developed, implemented and commissioned a full inventory management system TAGIT ICE. This integrated into the firm's existing ERP enterprise-wide management system and brought RFID to all steps of the supply chain.
The items started being tagged with RFID labels being encoded using an RFID printer. The tagged items were placed in the safe room. The stock is placed on shelves in the safe room. The stock in the safe room is read using an industrial antenna powered by Tagit Mobile Reader. The outgoing and incoming consignments were also read and verified within seconds using TAGIT Consignment Box. The TAGIT Consignment Box allows users to put up to 10 trays in two rows of five carrying about six pieces each. Equipped with two circularly polarized patch arrays, the items are counted in split seconds and tag data populated in the computer screen. The consignment box is the first specialized RFID device in the world which is fully compatible and can be integrated easily.
Rosy Blue said its return on investment has been high, while implementing RFID across the operations had provided great insights on improving supply chain response. In the event of an inventory check procedure, a fully automated RFID system contrasts sharply with a manual operation. A semi-automated system, such as a software solution equipped with bar-coding capabilities, will be more accurate but with a barcode it will still take a second for each scan discounting the misses. RFID scanning can take just 5-10 seconds to detect 200 jewelry items compared with a manual procedure which can take 30-40 minutes.
The RFID system enables the reduction of stock loss and stock misplacement. The ease with which it enables the counting and verifying of stock brings an opportunity to better plan and manage inventory. It also helps identify dead stock, fast moving items, and overall improve the company's supply chain response. Sometimes, items being placed in a location in the warehouse where they cannot be easily found would have caused problems. A piece as small as an earring or a ring going missing can create problems.