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RFID Read Reliability Is Not an Issue

RFID is far more accurate than existing systems, yet some people continue to insist they can't adopt the technology until it is 100 percent reliable.
By Mark Roberti
Jul 20, 2009I was speaking with a researcher the other day who had been running some tests on the ability to read radio frequency identification tags on a wide variety of individual consumer products in random orientation. The rates were very high—98 percent or better—but the researcher said he was afraid to publish the results because opponents would say, "See, you can't use this technology—you'll miss 2 percent of every item scanned."

The researcher's concerns are justified. A lot of retailers, logistics companies and manufacturers express concerns about RFID not being able to read every tag, every time. I'm not sure if they're using this as an excuse not to deploy the technology, or they just don't understand that RFID is far more accurate than either manual counting or bar-code systems.


I know some opponents of RFID just jumped out of their chairs, screaming: "RFID is more accurate than bar codes? Is Roberti nuts?"

No, I'm not nuts. The truth is, manual counting—either simply counting or scanning a bar code on each item—isn't close to 100 percent accurate. If you think manual counting is accurate, spill a large jar of coins on the floor and ask 10 people to count them. You'll probably get 10 different numbers.

For anyone who thinks bar codes are more accurate than RFID, I suggest you run this test: Build two pallets. Put them on pallet jacks and wheel them both through a portal. See how many RFID tags you read, and how many bar codes you read. I guarantee you'll capture more RFID data than bar-code data.

RFID is clearly superior to current systems used in retail apparel stores. The University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center conducted a study at several Dillard's stores to test RFID's ability to improve inventory accuracy. During the study, a regular inventory count was done in the store by scanning items with bar codes. When RFID was used, inventory accuracy improved by 4 percent.

USER COMMENTS

Bill BOWMAR 2009-07-22 01:50:22 AM
RFID Read Accuracy Mark, Too many of your examples are based on logistics issues mainly in the retail and distribution sectors, and in general are not very innovative. Can we have examples and discussions where the technology is used for innovative solutions. In a "previous life" I worked in the emergency services where we needed to confirm what equipment was on an emergency vehicle when it went out to attend an incident, and then what was on it on its return. One RFID solution might be to "double tag" everything and then use software to eliminate the duplicates. I am also aware of attempts to embed RFID tags into helicopter blades and railway sleepers to estimate the usage they received. Similar examples are welcome but please can we have less on logistics which seems to have been "done to death". Regards, Bill Bowmar
Peter Thayer 2009-07-22 10:35:17 AM
RFID Implementor While I second Bill Bowmar's comment, I also think Mark misses the main point of RFID. We're not implementing RFID to replace the barcode. We are implementing RFID to improve on the barcode. Consider, for example, a License Plate Number (LPN) that aggregates a collection of items on a pallet. Bar code readers handle the task of scanning individual items for association to the LPN, and tracking the movement of the LPN through the supply chain. But, a typical 1 or 2% "operator" mis-association of items to LPN causes major expense in a supply chain. A 100% read-reliable RFID forklift or portal could verify or obviate the need for LPN-item association. With imperfect tag read performance, the RFID industry remains focused on the fractional ROI of stock/clerk reduction. A RFID industry that delivers the consistent ability to track all assets through the supply chain would deliver a much higher ROI (likely an order of magnitude higher) through higher stock turns, fewer stock outs, fewer missed or wrong shipments, less material handling, etc.
Mark Roberti 2009-07-23 08:36:35 AM
Read accuracy Bill, Thanks for your comments. I was addressing a common misperception in RFID in an application that many, many people are looking at. Logistics issues might have been done to death, but there are still a lot of people with a lot of misunderstandings about RFID. I could point to a lot of innovative objects that have been successfully tagged, but that would not help dispel the myth I was addressing. As for the idea that I am missing the main point of RFID, nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, it would be ideal if RFID could be read on every product, in every environment, every time. It would also be ideal if bar codes could be read without line of site. Neither is possible. Does that mean we should dismiss RFID as useless? I don't think so. You can do an LP association with RFID with less labor and more accuracy than you can do it with bar codes. Plus, you can capture a lot more data with no incremental or very low incremental labor costs. More data will allow companies to increase stock turns, reduce out of stocks, reduce shrinkage and so much more. Not seizing the benefits in the belief that you can't get them without reading every tag on cases stacked on a pallet is a huge mistake.

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