Two U.S. Food Retailers Trial RFID-Based Shelf Labeling System

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.

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RFID Helps Maintain Proper Function of Water Purifier

May 26, 2009

According to MSNBC, only 23% of plastic water bottles that are consumed each year are recycled. While that may seem, at least, like an encouraging number, that means that as many as 38 billion plastic water bottles go to landfills every year. That’s why companies such as Fulton Innovation, a Michigan-based technology company, are spending resources on developing convenient, high-functioning water purifiers. In 2002, when Fulton decided to redesign its water purification system known as eSpring, it recognized that RFID could play a key role.

Fulton’s purification system utilizes a combination of ultraviolet light and a carbon filter to remove and/or destroy contaminants from tap water. For the redesign, the company wanted to introduce a wireless powering system that would enable the ultraviolet lamp within the purification system to be protected from water, thus increasing the product’s lifespan. In order to track the lamp’s usage and communicate to users when it should be changed, the company utilized RFID. The technology will also track the carbon filter element.

To do so, Fulton embedded each carbon filter unit and UV lamp with a passive 125 kHz tag, while an interrogator built into the purification system’s main control unit reads and encodes the tags with usage data. RFID works best for this data conveyance because the purification system does not allow for direct line of sight.

More than 1.5 million eSpring purification systems have been sold to date, in more than 36 countries. Thanks to RFID, plastic water bottle waste could soon become a thing of the past.


RFID Helps Beverage Manufacturer Track Shipping Containers-and Save Money

May 21, 2009

Norwegian beverage manufacturer Ringnes sells about half a billion liters (132 million gallons) of beverages each year. It’s no wonder the company had a difficult time tracking and tracing containers as they were shipped from and returned empty to the distribution center. Now, Ringnes has deployed an RFID solution that will allow it to track and trace its containers; improve the management of containers in the DC’s shipping yard; and create and access data regarding the transport of its products.

Before the RFID system was launched, employees referred to paper records visually checked the container yard to procure available containers. Ringnes wanted an automated system that would let the company know how many containers, and of what size, were available for loading. The company also wanted to know the exact time the containers were loaded and sent to a retailer.

In December 2008, a decade after first considering using RFID to track pallets, Ringnes launched the system to track about 300 containers. To do so, Ringnes has applied two EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags-which operate well around liquids and hold up under high-pressure washing-to each container. Meanwhile, 11 fixed interrogators and 42 antennas have been installed at the container yard’s entrance gate and at the DC’s dock doors, enabling the tags to be read at entrance and exit. The tags’ ID numbers are transmitted to Ringnes’ back-end system and are linked to the containers’ data and history. This way, Ringnes can instantly verify that retailers have returned the containers.

Thanks to the system, Ringnes has determined that it possesses too many containers-a surprising find for the company and one that will save it money on continuing to purchase new ones. Time spent loading and unloading at the dock has also been reduced.


RFID Used to Track Cashboxes-and Valuable Customers-at Chinese Bank

May 19, 2009

While RFID has found a variety of applications in warehouses, distribution centers, retailers, manufacturing plants, and even hospitals, courthouses, and laboratories, it has yet to fully penetrate financial markets. Now, China Construction Bank and Bank of China, two of the largest banks in China, will be utilizing RFID to track assets such as cashboxes and IT equipment; improve security; and enhance customer service.

China Construction Bank is currently testing an RFID system at the institution’s data center that will track and monitor servers and other IT equipment. The system works by having passive UHF tags, which are specialized for use in the presence of metal, attached to IT assets. A UHF RFID reader and antenna are mounted into the server rack and other locations to monitor the equipment, resulting in increased efficiency and productivity-as well as reduced costs, as employees no longer need to track down misplaced equipment or unnecessarily purchase new equipment. The system should be fully deployed by July.

Meanwhile, the Bank of China is using RFID to improve security while transporting cashboxes to its various branches. Active RFID tags, also specialized for use near metal, are attached to the cashboxes and communicate with RFID readers and unidirectional antennas connected to the entrance and exit of the bank. Omnidirectional antennas are installed throughout the bank as well, so that the cashboxes’ locations are always readily verifiable.

The Bank of China is also taking asset tracking to a new level by giving VIP customers a badge containing an RFID chip containing unique identifying information. When the customers walk in, personnel are immediately notified, resulting in better, faster, and more personalized service.


More Than Business: RFID Called Upon to Improve Lives

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.


Not a Typical Supply Chain: In Middle East, RFID plows through theft and attacks

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.”


How RFID Can Help Green the Supply Chain

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.

  • Employee sensing

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?