Warehouse/DC Management: RFID settles in
Multi-modal handheld RFID readers with voice technology and scanning capabilities can acquire, in real-time, proof of identification and monitor an asset’s location and its current status.
April 01, 2013
Better tags and readers
Another big driver for RFID adoption is the continued improvement of all components of RFID technology. Kurt Mensch, principal product manager for RFID for Intermec, says that their new 70-series readers have become highly portable, mobile, and multi-modal—not only reading tags, but still able to scan barcodes and use voice technology for warehouse tasks. The mobility provider has also solved the issue of reading peripheral tags through software “so we can detect tags that are in motion and those that are stationary.”
Reader throughput has also made significant strides. “In 2009 we were reading 5,000 items in an hour,” adds Javick, “Today we are capable of reading 20,000 items in an hour.” Longer read ranges and the ability to read labels on metals and liquids are other more notable developments. In fact, GS1 Italy just completed successful item-level pilots of consumer electronics involving the tagging of products with high metallic content (see sidebar on page 40).
The tags themselves also continue to improve. Some tag providers are manufacturing tags so thin that they can be placed within banknotes. Some are imbedding them into an item’s clothing care label and combining them with Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) systems. “It’s not only an inventory control solution, but it’s also a security or loss prevention system attributed to RFID,” says VDC’s Liard.
With increased adoption, tag price points continue on their downward spiral, hovering between 10 cents to 15 cents depending on quantity, how elaborate you need them to be (graphics, print, card stock), and the amount of memory it needs to carry. “That’s much improved from 25 cents just three years ago,” says Javick.
He also adds that software systems related to RFID solutions are becoming more turnkey. “This allows for greater integration into the core legacy systems and these store systems are able to better manage the serialized data that comes with EPC reads.”
Product tracking and traceability
Another driver for RFID adoption has been the continued pressure from government agencies to protect America’s food supply by ensuring product traceability. Mike Maris, senior director for transportation, distribution, and logistics for Motorola Solutions, describes traceability as the ability to track the flow of each food item in its cold chain “from farm to fork.” Because it involves the
real-time recording of a considerable amount of information, traceability becomes a natural candidate for item-level RFID tagging.
With traceability, product-related data—including proper storage and transport temperatures, manufacture dates, shelf life, expiration dates, lots, batch, and serial numbers—are stored directly on RFID tags that are attached either directly to the product or on pallets and returnable plastic containers.
At each stage of the cold chain, product data can be recorded and updated wirelessly and automatically as products move through RFID portals from the farms through warehouses to stores. The information on the tags can also be used to quickly trace product back through the cold chain in the event of a recall.
With RFID, an electronic record of a product’s journey through the supply chain—or its pedigree—can be created and maintained to verify authenticity, combat counterfeiting, and ensure consumer safety. Liard reports how South Korea is currently tagging millions of units of pharmaceuticals at the item-level in response to government mandates and to stem the illicit trade of counterfeit drugs.
What’s holding RFID back?
Despite these drivers that are spurring adoption, many remain unsure about RFID technology. Education and awareness continues to be a big challenge. “Many executives believe that it’s still about tagging cases and pallets; it’s moved well beyond that,” says GS1’s Javick.
“They have not looked at it recently. GS1 US offers an educational program to brands and retailers as part of deployment support.” This program provides the training, tools, and community support to incorporate EPC item-level tagging into day-to-day operations.
Liard points to industry collaboration—such as those pilots spearheaded by the retail community—as what helps drive the market. “Retail came together as a community to share their learning,” adds Liard. “They demonstrated the business case and the return on investment. We don’t have that collaboration outside of retail quite yet, and that’s a big challenge. That’s what’s keeping us back.”
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