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RFID Data Sharing Passes Test in Successful EPCIS Trial

The EPCIS RFID data sharing standard passed what may have been its largest test to date. EPCglobal announced more than two dozen firms participated in a pilot project that used passive and active RFID technologies and EPCIS-standard communication to track ocean shipments from China to the US.
Jun 17, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

June 17, 2008—A recently concluded RFID logistics pilot unprecedented in its scope found the EPC Information Services (EPCIS) standard could provide global visibility and support data exchange in real time for multiple companies in a supply chain. More than two dozen organizations participated in the EPCglobal-sponsored pilot, which tracked shipments of goods that originated in China and were shipped by sea to the US.

EPCIS defines a standard set of methods by which EPC data from RFID or other sensor technology can be captured, processed, formatted, and shared among trusted trading partners. It uses standard EPC identification numbers to provide context about the tag item through additional standardized nomenclatures, which can be developed to support specific industries or business processes. EPCIS also provides an open, standardized way for organizations to access and exchange EPC data. See RFID Data Sharing Standard EPCIS is Ratified for more background.

The pilot began in November and tracked two separate shipments. Each shipment included three cargo containers, which were identified with an active UHF RFID tag. Containers were loaded with 40 pallets, which were identified with Gen2 passive UHF RFID tags. The pallets contained a variety of goods manufactured in China for sale in the US, including laptops and tires. Goods were tracked by RFID at the ports of Shanghai and Los Angeles, and by trucking firms, cargo ship operators, and distribution centers that handled them along the way. EPCglobal's announcement lists 28 organizations, including manufacturers, logistics providers, associations, government agencies, and technology providers, that participated in the pilot.

"This pilot pulled together all these strands that previously had been used separately -- passive RFID, active RFID, EPCIS, and other global standards," David Lyon, UK-based EPCglobal business manager, told RFID Update. "EPCIS achieved its endgame by allowing real-time EPC data to be shared throughout the supply chain."

Multiple companies and military organizations have supply chain tracking systems that utilize a mix of passive and active RFID technologies. The EPC trial was not groundbreaking in this regard, but was unprecedented because of the number of organizations involved in producing and accessing RFID data, and in EPCIS's role in facilitating data exchange.

Mountain View, California-based Savi develops active and passive RFID systems and software for providing logistics visibility and has delivered solutions to multiple companies and military organizations. It is currently involved in an 18-participant pilot with Land Rover (see Land Rover Embraces RTLS, RFID for Supply Chain and WIP). Savi also participated in the EPCglobal pilot, so RFID Update sought its perspective on the pilot's significance and how it differs from capabilities already commercially available.

"The project is more significant from the EPC perspective than from the supply chain/logistics perspective," Fraser Jennings, vice president of marketing for Savi Performance Logistics, told RFID Update. Jennings has also been Savi's representative to EPCglobal and been involved in standards efforts. "The pilot's significance is showing that multiple technologies could interface to an EPCIS system and provide information to multiple organizations."

There are only believed to be a handful of companies worldwide using EPCIS as part of their ongoing operations, and most are believed to be exchanging data with only a few trading partners. The largest known user is METRO Group, whose retail item-level tracking systems are based on EPC standards (see METRO Unveils Warehouse-to-Checkout RFID System).

"We don't see a lot of clamoring for the EPCIS system in the market. At this point, it's more conceptual," said Jennings. "The pilot was about finding whether there is a better way of standardizing data sharing across multiple users and to identify what else may be needed. These questions hadn't been asked before, but need to be addressed now as the complexity of devices and the number of participants in supply chains continues to grow."

EPCglobal said it would like to conduct a follow-up pilot to build on the experience gained. The next trial could be used to evaluate communications methods to improve chain-of-custody reporting and to try terminology and transactions specific to logistics, according to Lyon. EPCglobal also conducted a much smaller EPCIS logistics pilot in 2006 (see EPCglobal Launches Major RFID Pilot in Asia).
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