Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is becoming an essential tool in the kit of retailers, distributors, suppliers and freighters worldwide. We asked Andrew Berger, Vice President Europe and International of Alien Technology Corporation, UK, what progressive Australian companies should be doing with RFID systems in 2005…
RFID Technology involves two main elements: tag/antenna systems and readers. Readers send out microwaves which are received by individual tags attached to products. The tags use the power from the microwave energy to send back a signal to the reader, conveying precious data about product load/item descriptions, configurations, expiry dates, unique packaging, etc. Complementary information sent over the Internet about product locations, haulage movements and ordering/stock trends are also changing the way supply chains operate.
An extraordinary revolution in the use of the Internet and networks is being planned as we speak (as initial rollouts of this new technology are starting). Huge organizations like Wal*Mart, the US Department of Defense (DoD), Tesco and Metro Group are starting to implement plans for tagging billions of cases and pallets per year. This could lead to over 100 billion RFID tags being connected to networks like the internet over the next 5-7 years. Given that there are currently only 750 million users of the Internet and 4.3 billion web pages, this has the potential to fundamentally change the way that businesses and supply chains work.
The key question on the lips of most progressive companies is “How do we get involved in RFID in the right way?” Sceptics about RFID are a bit like sceptics in the early days of the Internet. No-one judges the Internet these days on the basis of a 56k modem and a phone line. Similarly, the performance of RFID technology will improve vastly and quickly just with current levels of investment.
Where are the examples of this new technology? Wal*Mart is tagging cases in its Texas supply chain. The US DoD is tracking everything from combat meals to spare parts for fighter aircraft. Metro is conducting limited trials of case tagging and item level tracking. Tesco is setting out to secure its supply chain around high value goods. Other European retailers are conducting trials on meat tracking and clothing. Reusable asset tracking is also high on the agenda of companies as diverse as breweries, industrial gases, packaging, chemicals and fertilizers. The list of applications and industries grows almost weekly. The potential of RFID is really only limited by a combination of physics and the imagination of your people. RFID is different to barcode for two main reasons: firstly, you have a unique serial number, so you can count items; secondly, you can read multiple tags without human intervention. This adds up to the ability to gain remote visibility of the location of everything in your supply chain.
To find out more about RFID Technology, see the Store Technology article in the January issue of the Australian Hardware Journal.