RFID needs ‘forky’ toughness

According to a growing gaggle of vendors, RFID will soon be both an all-pervading, all-encompassing panacea for all our business ills. RFID will harness information about everything from the lifecycle of a can of soft drink to the toiletry habits of domestic pets.

RFID will tell you when to pump up your tyres, which dry cleaner you took your suit to and which brand of milk still has crates that you can squeeze your vinyl LP collection into. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be RFID-enabled with seasonally adjusted key performance indicators viewable on a Web-enabled dashboard.

Big organisations are expecting big returns from their RFID investments. Wal Mart has mandated RFID standards to suppliers. So too has the US Department of Defence. Woolworths and Coles are spruiking productivity gains to shareholders based on RFID-enabled supply chains. There will be RFID shopping trolleys everywhere.

I was almost convinced about the RFID revolution until I had a beer with a supply chain veteran who, after many years fixing what he calls “reefers” (refrigerated freight containers) has diversified into repairing “forkies” (forklifts).

Once a factory systems programmer behind the iron curtain, my SCM guru called Goran explained to me that in all supply chain management, there is no greater enemy than “bloody forkies” — and that RFID will do nothing to change their ways.

According to Goran almost any failure, at any time, in any supply chain is “a forky-related incident”. Missing stock, broken stock and stock loaded onto the wrong truck to the wrong place at the wrong time is all the work of forkies.

When I mentioned that RFID could potentially thwart the forkies, Goran laughed and forcibly told me about the way he once saw a forky reverse into a pallet of printers just to move them out of the way. Other dastardly forky acts Goran alleged included stealthily putting a box broken by them back onto a supplier’s truck, denying it ever came off in the first place. I foolishly insisted RFID could solve all of this. Forkies could be tracked, monitored, audited and fixed. Yet for every argument I came up with Goran had a forky way around it. Conceding defeat, I asked him what RFID might be good for.

“Good for rubbish,” he retorted. Goran figures if every product everywhere was RFID enabled, in 10 years the cost of every bit of garbage pulled out of Sydney Harbour could be charged back to the producer promoting responsible packaging.

Another RFID benefit Goran sees is preventing shopping trolleys ending up in the most ludicrous of places. Goran hates it when he can’t get a shopping trolley at the supermarket.

“When I came back to Australia on the plane mate, I see this shopping trolley on top of the landing lights at the airport. It was OK because it was daytime. It was bloody forkies for sure mate.”

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