RFID trial dubbed a supply chain utopia

Pilot shows readability improvements

The National EPC Network Demonstrator Project (NDP) Extension has achieved a 100 percent RFID tag identification rate, up 5 percent on last year's pilot, researchers claim.

The $109,000 government-sponsored project saw RFID standards developer GS1 Australia, pallet manufacturer Chep, Cisco, Telstra, Linfox, and Masterfoods along with other big industry players collaborating to design a business case for the previous years' RFID proof of concept (PoC).

The group claims the supply-chain PoC boasts a close-to 100 percent item recognition rate, based on passing RFID tagged pallets through fixed and handheld scanners, and does not require any paper records or manual data entry for the entire end-to-end shipping process.

And they have achieved it, according to Chep director of information system Murray Fane, who described the finished trial as a supply-chain "utopia".

"The pilot was RFID how it should be; you want to load your pallets on a truck, and know that 100 percent have arrived, and have it [automatically] updated in the systems with no effort - and we did it," Fane said.

Last year's trial, which began in July, produced an 'acceptable' PoC containing a 95 percent RFID tag recognition rate but had little regard to formulating a business case, according to GS1 general manager for member and industry support, John Hearn.

Last year's proof of concept was more about sharing data, and less about readability, [such as] how to share data and track cartons," Hearn said, adding the project now has a cross industry advisory group to review RFID roadmaps.

"We had trouble reaching a business case [because it is] very challenging to build a supply-side case."

The extended NDP coincided with the development of GS1's second generation Electronic Product Code (EPC) RFID standard which Hearn said allows RFID hardware and software vendors to build more robust tags, readers and middleware.

"The first EPC [used for] the initial NDP had challenges with read-rates and security, but generation two has faster read-writes and better security," Hearn said.

The latest project achieved customer productivity gains of up to 22.2 per cent, compared to the previous EPC standard and RFID processes, in scanning an average stack of 20 RFID-enabled palettes, and gained 28 percent in total efficiencies in end-to-end processing time per pallet.

Asked by Computerworld whether RFID would be a practical solution for rural industry such as farmers, Fane said the technology's effectiveness comes down to strategic deployment.

"You don't need tag-reads at every place, you only need them in opportune places [because] the trick is to know where to put the readers," he said.

"If we read 100 percent of crates coming out of a service centre and we know its going to a location out of state, it will arrive into the delivery centre where readers can get a 100 percent confirmation which proves whatever went out has returned."

However, 100 percent does not mean the technology is squeaky-clean. The NDP report listed several "challenges and learnings" which noted technical problems and inconsistencies with the scanners, readers and compatibility with routers and middleware technology.

Problems included compatibility between RFID readers and Cisco routers, different and identical readers achieving inconsistent identification rates for the same tag, scanner signal interference caused by different materials, wireless signals, elevation and moisture, and hardware redundancy through evolution in new technology.

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