May 28, 2009
In the U.S., grocery store chains use millions of paper labels annually to update product prices on shelves. Now, two U.S. grocery retailers (who declined to be named in the RFID Journal) are test piloting an RFID system that would enable them to change the prices on thousands of products simultaneously-saving paper, labor, and tens of thousands of dollars.
The electronic shelf system (ESL) features RFID-based LCD displays that attach to store shelves to identify products and their prices. Grocery store employees can manage the system from a remote location. As chain retailers typically make 10,000 to 12,000 price changes per week, the convenience of such a system is invaluable. That’s especially the case considering that creating shelf labels currently involves printing paper labels and requiring employees to attach them to the shelves, resulting in frequent errors.
The ESL RFID system includes readers installed in the ceilings of each grocery store. Meanwhile, a computer server located in each store’s back room receives pricing updates via the Internet from the stores’ headquarters. The server then sends those updates to the interrogators via an Ethernet cable, and the readers transmit the information to the shelf labels. The LCD screen updates the product information upon receiving it from the reader and sends a confirmation to the interrogators when the pricing is changed. With this system, 10,000 labels can be updated in less than an hour.
The ESL RFID system promises a ROI in one and a half to two years.
May 14, 2009
At the RFID Journal LIVE! 2009 conference, IBM executive Martin Wildberger looked toward the future, with an eye on how RFID can be used to improve millions of lives. Wilberger made some illuminating observations.
- RFID can reduce food-borne illnesses.
Many companies are currently utilizing RFID and sensor technologies in food and cold chains to improve product safety and enhance working environments. Continuing these strides, said Wildberger, RFID can be used to reduce food-borne illnesses throughout the world. Wildberger revealed that up to 60% of produce and 75% of seafood in the U.S. is imported, with only 1% of the food inspected at the borders. Perhaps not surprisingly, 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses are seen in the United States each year—a disproportionately high number that RFID technology can help lower.
- RFID can increase patient safety and lower health care costs.
As recently as the last several months, dozens of hospitals across the country have begun incorporating RFID to track assets such as medical equipment, surgical tissue, surgical probes, patients, and personnel. Wildberger said he expects that RFID will continue to help hospitals automate medical records systems and improve communication flows between personnel and patients.
- RFID can help make a “smarter” planet.
In his conference speech, Wildberger discussed ways in which RFID can boost the “smarts” of the planet. The smarter planet, he said, hinges on instrumentation, interconnectivity, and intelligence. Prime examples include transforming the way water systems function—eventually eliminating water shortages around the world—as well as improving energy management in buildings and streamlining traffic patterns.
With the advances in RFID technology in the last decade alone, the possibilities Wildberger discussed seem well within reach.
May 12, 2009
Unlike the typical supply chain for warehouses and distribution centers, the U.S. military “supply chain” in Iraq and Afghanistan is under constant threat of being derailed by weather, border delays, theft, political unrest, attacks, labor issues, and road conditions.
That’s why the Department of Defense (DoD) has been utilizing RFID technology to ensure that cargo is safely shipped and delivered throughout the Middle East.
For warehouse tracking, the U.S. military affixes passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags to cargo. Meanwhile, cargo containers are tracked by 433 MHz active RFID tags, which are read along the trade route by fixed RFID interrogators. The interrogators read each tag’s unique ID numbers—which are linked in the DoD’s backend system to the shipment’s identity and destination—and stamps each read with date and time. Approximately 16,000 cargo items are tagged each week, serving three key purposes:
- Providing military leaders with strategic data and visibility of the supply chain, enabling those leaders to make important decisions about the war effort
- Providing operational data that allows military personnel to keep accurate tabs on where cargo is in real time
- Providing tactical information to help infantry make decisions based on available supplies
Because of how regularly theft and pilfering occurs throughout a shipment’s route, containers have been fit with RFID-based intrusion-detection devices. Coupled with satellite tracking, the devices give military leaders real-time insights into the current location and any suspicious delays of the trucks. Since implementing the RFID-based devices eight months ago, there have been no experiences of pilfering.
According to Major General James L. Hodge, commanding general of the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command at Scott Air Force Base, “Without RFID, the commanders would have no means for tracking and monitoring the equipment that is required to fight and win these wars.”
May 7, 2009
In the last several years, the pressure has risen for retailers and suppliers to “green” their processes. Now incorporating RFID could make it easier than ever to be kinder to the environment—and the pocketbook.
- Tagging reusable containers
Hundreds of companies have increased supply chain visibility by tagging pallets and cases. However, most of those containers are eventually disposed of or destroyed. In an effort to be more environmentally responsible, PepsiCo recently announced that its Quaker, Gatorade, and Tropicana business units would begin shipping all products on new all-plastic pallets. The pallets are 30% lighter than wood pallets and will be equipped with EPC Gen 2 RFID tags for tracking. By incorporating reusable containers, companies could see a greater ROI on their RFID investment, as well as reduce their impact on the environment.
- Reducing expedited freight
By increasing supply chain visibility, RFID gives companies advanced warning about potential inventory problems. This allows companies to take earlier action, possibly reducing the need to expedite freight, which uses more energy and creates more emissions per pound than the slower modes of transportation that are normally used.
We have discussed ways that managers and supervisors can increase employee safety by equipping them with RFID-enabled badges and cards. Similarly, those badges could be linked to smart HVAC and lighting systems, which would activate and deactivate when employees enter and leave the room.
How green is your supply chain?