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Cold Chain and Item-Level Tracking Will Drive RFID Adoption

Bill Hardgrave, director of the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas, says companies are finding a return on investment in key areas—and this will propel adoption in the next 12 months.
By Mark Roberti
Jun 29, 2006The University of Arkansas formally opened its RFID Research Center on June 10, 2005. The center is headed by Bill Hardgrave, the Edwin & Karlee Bradberry Chair in Information Systems and executive director of the Information Technology Research Institute (ITRC).

With the backing of Wal-Mart and other corporate sponsors, including ACNielsen, Deloitte, E. & J. Gallo Winery, J.B. Hunt Transport Services and Tyson Foods, the RFID Research Center has emerged as the preeminent RFID lab within academia. (Full disclosure: RFID Journal is a media sponsor of the lab.)

Bill Hardgrave, University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center
RFID Journal recently spoke with Hardgrave about what the research center has accomplished in its first year and what projects the lab has in the pipeline for the next 12 months. Here is an excerpt of that interview:

RFID Journal: When you look back on the lab's first year, do you feel you've achieved your objectives so far?
Hardgrave: We were primarily focused on the retail/CPG supply chain. We wanted to establish a presence there and set up a lab around RFID applications in that sector. We wanted to advance the knowledge of RFID in the supply chain. I think we've done some good things. The study we did on RFID's impact on out-of-stocks at Wal-Mart was helpful to the industry, and we continue to research around that. The setting up of the lab and research center has been helpful for a couple of reasons. In the first year, we had more than 1,100 visitors from some 500 companies come through the lab. We use that opportunity to educate people about what RFID is and is not. We've helped get people thinking about how RFID can be leveraged, not just in the supply chain but also in other areas. I think we've also helped drive adoption by helping the supplier community understand more about RFID and how it can be used with their products through the testing services that we offer. We've been successful in generating interest among students and faculty here. We've had more than 100 students work in the lab, take courses or work on research projects, and we've had 15 faculty members involved with the lab.

RFID Journal: What new developments or trends are you seeing in RFID?
Hardgrave: Wal-Mart's use of RFID and the suppliers they brought on have pushed RFID forward. But we are seeing many other companies looking at RFID's value proposition. They are doing it because they want to and think there is an ROI there. I think that type of approach will push RFID forward more rapidly in the next 12 months than we've seen previously. In the area of cold chain—temperature and environmental sensing—companies are looking to use RFID because they see a value proposition, and I think they are right. They are adopting the technology on their own terms, and it will move things along rapidly. Tracking big-ticket items is another area. Again, companies [looking at this application] see an ROI. Those two areas will push RFID forward in the next year. That's not to say tracking pallets and cases in the supply chain will be forgotten, but I think we are going to see lots of facilitators in this area, not just Wal-Mart.

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