Is RFID right for you right now? If you have been "invited" to implement RFID by one of your customers, that decision is easy. If there is no mandate on the horizon, you need to evaluate the advantages of using RFID within your own company. It may be too expensive to mark every individual item, but putting RFID labels on pallets and cartons yields the same advantages Wal-Mart and the DoD are looking for - inventory tracking and theft prevention.
Educate your employees on the technology and let them brainstorm internal applications. Even if you decide, after learning more about the technology, that RFID is not for you right now, you have made an informed and important decision.
Those of you who have successfully adopted Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) have
been here before. In the beginning, EDI was just considered a nuisance and an expense. Now that suppliers have it integrated into their systems and have learned how to take advantage of electronic business transactions, they are realizing big returns on their investment. (If the pain/performance ratio on EDI is still unacceptable to your company - talk to someone. It certainly doesn't have to be that way.)
The Difference Between "Got To" and "Want To"
Somewhere on this list a supplier will go from "got to" to "want to", providing at least as much efficiency and advantage to themselves as to their customer. From the supplier's perspective:
1. Are you part of a Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, DoD mandate?
2. Even though you don't have a mandate, do you have customers who are using RFID? If so, you will be involved sooner or later.
3. Are you implementing new systems that, some day, will have to be RFID compatible? This includes new physical buildings; package engineering for new items; updated warehouse management or enterprise resource planning software; new scanning or wireless network hardware, and so on.
4. Do you need improved supply chain visibility from your suppliers?
5. Do you need better process control? When you track an item through your systems you are gathering both item / event data and valuable information about the process itself.
6. Do you need to manage shrinkage (products and labor hours)?
7. Would doing RFID increase sales?
8. Do you need tracking and tracing capability?
9. Are you a technologically savvy entrepreneur? Do you want the positive public relations that accompany being a leader in your industry sector?
10. Are you interested in conducting a fun science experiment?
What's in it for Me? Is RFID Just an Expense?
Is RFID just an expensive bar code? More to the point, if you are a supplier to retail, is it just an expense? It is, of course, if you donít find some way to take advantage of the technology within your own four walls.
Letís get creative with one possible way to use RFID to your benefit. If you ship product in case-packs, and your retail customer will be asking you to apply an RFID Serial Shipping Container Code when you send them the goods, why not put the SSCC on a chip, in a small label, on the carton, when you receive it? You can use that license plate number to track the carton internally, through put-way, inventory, picking, packing and shipping. Put RFID readers on the dock door, to track exactly what gets loaded onto the truck. Make the system is very visible so everyone knows you have a new inventory tracking capability and it will be much more difficult for product to "fall through the cracks". When creating the UCC Common Shipping Label, read the RFID SSCC and use it to print the usual (non-RFID) label. When purchased in volume, the smaller RFID labels should cost less than 4 x 6 shipping labels. You could do the same with serialized GTIN labels. Perhaps you could even print them up ahead of time and if you manufacture off-shore, ask your source to apply the labels to increase visibility upstream. In many cases, depending on the composition of your product (if it does not contain a lot of metal, liquid or electrolytes) you can simply throw the tag into the box and read it through the carton.
As always, "arm" yourself with an understanding of international standards so you can avoid costly one-off installations. Here is a good place to start: http://www.epcglobalinc.org/standards_technology/specifications.html
One thing is for sure. It is better to work and learn at your own pace than to wait until you have an externally imposed deadline.
Paula Giovannetti of EC Workshops can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an edited excerpt from an article originally written by Paula Giovannetti for the Compliance Advocate. For more on the Compliance Advocate Newsletter, please see the Vendor Compliance Federation website.