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Auto-ID Center Courts Europe

Auto-ID Center director Helen Duce spoke to RFID Journal about the center's efforts in Europe in 2003.
Tags: Standards
Dec 22, 2002Dec. 23, 2002 - The Auto-ID Center's list of sponsors is tilted towards U.S. companies in the retail and consumer packaged goods sectors. Helen Duce wants to change that by bringing in more European sponsors and more manufacturing companies. The director of the center's lab in Cambridge, England, recently spoke with RFID Journal Editor Mark Roberti about the center's plans in Europe in 2003.
Auto-ID Center's Duce

RFID Journal: You've just signed British Telecom. But overall, you haven't had as much success in Europe as in the U.S. and Asia. Why is that?
Duce: BT is a really big win for us. About 20 percent of sponsors are now from Europe, but it's been a little slower than we would have liked. We're behind the U.S. in raising awareness of RFID and auto-identification, especially within end-user companies. That's because we didn't start until much later than the lab in the U.S.

RFID Journal: The center has more than 80 sponsors now. Why is important to sign up more European sponsors?
Duce: It's not just about getting more funding. Our board has to have representatives from Europe, because if European voices are not heard, then the issues they face won't be addressed – whether that's regulatory issues or business environments.

We're also trying to reach beyond the consumer packaged goods industry into an area where Cambridge has a core competency, which is manufacturing. We're reaching out to manufacturers in consumer electronics, automotive and other areas. We're starting from scratch in raising awareness, and as a nonprofit, we don't have a big marketing budget.

RFID Journal: Why do you think more manufacturers haven't backed the center's efforts thus far?
Duce: A lot manufacturing companies have been using RFID technology for a very long time. Cost has been less of an issue for them because they are often tracking higher-value items, and they are working within closed loop systems, so they don't have to worry about tracking goods outside of their own supply chain.

We are taking RFID in a new direction. It's not just tagging an end product but the components that went into it. We see all the parts of the car being tagged and the chassis carrying an EPC number as well, so the machines begin to know that these things are related to one another. That's a new vision for this area. It has the potential to bring tremendous efficiencies.

RFID Journal: Cambridge has a manufacturing demonstration lab. Has it been able to show people these benefits?
Duce: The demo is moving into its second stage. The first stage was just integrating auto-id into an existing manufacturing line to show how it can enhance a manufacturer's existing supply chain. What we are trying to get to is auto-ID driving manufacturing. The product will carry with it instructions, so it can negotiate with the different resources within the plant, whether that's a robot or a packing line.

We're in the process of building that demo now. And it will involve agent software. We're adding some complexity to it. We aim to have that ready in February to show the sponsors how you can change an existing supply chain for the better. You can reduce disruption and therefore increase uptime and efficiency and reduce cost. The research is going well.

RFID Journal: Is interest picking up among manufacturers?
Duce: We recently held a manufacturing adoption forum in partnership with Accenture. That was our first initiative to try to attract companies in this area. We had a lot of interest. There was a wide range of companies represented.

RFID Journal: What are your goals for the European lab for 2003?
Duce: Our goals are the same worldwide. It's about moving away for awareness and starting to drive adoption. That's the key thing. It's no longer good enough to just let people know what we are doing. We have to make sure companies are actually doing things with the technology.
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