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The Right Approach to RFID

Companies don't have to dream about solving their business problems and enhancing their competitive edge—they can build an enterprise RFID infrastructure that will support their current and long-term objectives.
By Mark Roberti
Apr 25, 2014

Like Martin Luther King Jr., the great civil rights leader, I have a dream. I have a dream that one day we will dramatically reduce waste and inefficiency across all companies in all sectors. While my dream is not as noble as Dr. King's dream of a world in which the color of your skin is irrelevant, at times it seems as challenging. But I think we can make great progress if companies take a more strategic approach to radio frequency identification technologies.

Airbus, a pioneer in the use of RFID technologies, has developed a strategy that other companies can emulate. In his keynote address at RFID Journal LIVE! 2014, Carlo Nizam, head of value chain visibility and auto ID at Airbus, said initially the airplane manufacturer used RFID to track tools in a wing assembly plant. Then, managers realized they could also use it to track shipments from suppliers as well as subassemblies. Next, they discovered they could track the wings and measure how long it took to assemble each wing. After a few years, they had built an active and passive RFID infrastructure capable of delivering real-time visibility and up-to-the-minute reporting on everything going on in the factory. Though it wasn't their intention, they had built the factory of the future.

As our cover story in this issue reveals, taking a strategic approach doesn't mean deploying RFID everywhere all at once. It means thinking about the enterprise's current and future needs, so instead of using RFID to track something here and automate something there, companies take on projects with a plan to expand the deployment step by step to create a complete infrastructure. (For best practices, see The Big Picture.)

Medical device manufacturers are in the perfect position to consider the big picture. They can adopt RFID to comply with a new U.S. Food and Drug Administration rule to uniquely identify medical devices to facilitate recalls and thwart counterfeiting—and build an infrastructure that improves internal operations and boosts customer satisfaction. Some forward-thinking medical device makers are also developing RFID solutions that promise to improve patient outcome and recovery (see Managing Medical Devices).

RFID vendors are doing their part to provide the tools that will enable companies to take a more strategic approach and deploy an RFID infrastructure. In our Product Developments section, we look at overhead readers designed to track tagged items around the clock. By providing information on the location and movement of goods, companies can get real-time information that will allow them to improve business processes and cut costs. In conjunction with portal and handheld readers, overheads open the possibility of companies building not just factories but stores and warehouses—even hospitals, libraries and schools—of the future.

Companies don't have to dream about solving their business problems and enhancing their competitive edge. They can build an enterprise RFID infrastructure that will support their current and long-term objectives. The only requirement is vision.

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