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Cisco Testing, Deploying RFID on Multiple Fronts

The networking and communications equipment company has been exploring how RFID can help it to improve supply chain management, asset tracking and usage, and reverse logistics.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Nov 25, 2008Cisco uses contract manufacturers and distributors to produce the networking and communications equipment it sells, and to get them into reseller's hands. By the time a carton containing a Cisco product arrives at its final destination, it might have as many as 16 bar-coded labels on it, says Waseem Sheikh, director and group leader of the company's supply chain management practice. Replacing some, if not all, of those bar-code labels with an RFID label, he states, could greatly improve the speed and accuracy of the shipping and receiving functions.

Cisco also knows its supply chain partners need to play a role in—and be compelled by the benefits of—any RFID application. That's why the firm collaborated with one its distributors, Ingram Micro, on an RFID pilot program, and why it is currently working to collaborate with its contract manufacturers to begin tagging products at the point of manufacture.

Waseem Sheikh
Its supply chain, however, is only one of many areas where Cisco believes radio frequency identification can deliver benefits. In recent years, the company conducted another major RFID pilot, focused on asset tracking. Based on the results of these efforts, which are shared across the corporation's departments through its intranet, there are now 64 different RFID-related initiatives currently being investigated across the company's operations.

"We are trying to reduce the number [of initiatives] by combining similar ones," Sheikh says. "We have to walk the line between encouraging many experiments and combining them. While improved visibility is a major driver, the projects are not always focused solely on product tracking."

Shipping-Receiving Pilot
This project, conducted in 2007, involved three parties: Cisco, Menlo Worldwide, which provides logistics services, and Ingram Micro. During the project, all Cisco shipments transported from a Menlo warehouse in Houston to an Ingram Micro warehouse in Carol Stream, Ill., were tagged.

"We have a service level agreement with Menlo that we amended so Menlo workers would tag" the goods, Sheikh says. Each case or carton of Cisco products was tagged with a passive EPC Gen 2 label and loaded onto a pallet, which was also assigned an EPC tag. In back-end software, the pallet tag's Electronic Product Code (EPC) was associated with all of those encoded to the cases on the pallet.

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