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Physical and Psychological Barriers to RFID Adoption

Passive UHF system vendors will need to solve one problem—and education can help end users overcome another.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 25, 2010Two of the biggest complaints I hear from end users regarding passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification systems concern tag reads—whether they're using handheld or fixed readers to monitor inventory on shelves, or to track pallets of goods. On one hand, apparel retailers, warehouse managers and other end users tell me the biggest problem they have is that readers pick up tags they don't want to read at that particular moment. On the other hand, many are concerned that they might miss reading a tag, and that inventory or shipments might thus be inaccurate.

Unwanted tag reads is a legitimate problem. Concern about missing tag reads is more a matter of education, so let me address that issue first.


There is still a widespread belief that bar codes are more accurate than RFID, because each time a person picks up a tag and scans it, the bar code is read, and we all know there are times when RFID tags are missed. But the reality is that in many situations, the technology is far more accurate than bar codes. The University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center studied employees taking inventory with bar codes and with RFID in an apparel store, and found that workers missed, on average, approximately 20 percent of items, while RFID was 99 percent accurate.

Apparel is RF-friendly, of course, so accuracy is not difficult to achieve. But I've spoken with end users who have deployed RFID to track returnable containers, metal roll cages, metal products and so forth. They tell me that properly engineered passive UHF systems deliver 98 percent accuracy, and that the reliability of their systems quickly convinced them that RFID is a big improvement on their legacy data-collection systems. (The reality is that people armed with bar-code scanners rarely do as well.)

People are comfortable with bar-code systems, because when someone points a scanner at a bar code, the system doesn't beep until the bar code is read. With RFID, there is no such ability to confirm that each individual tag is read. Still, I think it's just a matter of time before people begin to trust RFID. Those end users who use the systems usually wind up trusting the technology.

USER COMMENTS

Oliver Hedgepeth 2010-12-26 03:35:06 PM
Training for Beeps While “Apparel is RF-friendly,” there are other products that have some training related issues. The beverage industry in retail grocers has a unique problem different from apparel. For RFID research conducted by the Transportation and Logistics Department of the American Public University, at a major grocery chain, we found several beverage containers with barcode packaging read errors. For example, a four-pack paper container holding four brand name ginger ale bottles could fool the barcode reader at checkout. If one or more bottles are turned to the open side of the package so that the individual bottle bar code is showing, the bar code vertical reader scans the individual bottle price instead of the total cost for all four beverage bottles located on the bottom of the paper cartoon. A solution is to have the checkout person not slide the open end of the container facing the vertical bar code reader. Is this a training issue? A similar incident occurred with a plastic wrapped 24 pack of water bottles. The clerks hand held scanner picked up the bar code of an individual water bottle instead of the package bar code. In one case a four pack of ginger ale rings up as 78¢ and for the water,rings up much less. The clerks at this national grocery chain saw the amount, shrugged, but let it go. Yes, there are many levels of training or education issues here. We continued to find many beverage products in visually open packages that could fool the bar code reader. What Roberti has indicated is yet one more problem in the area of RFID or bar code usage as we find other differences between the two. Do we need better education or training at the point of sale? He also states, “People are comfortable with bar-code systems, because when someone points a scanner at a bar code, the system doesn't beep until the bar code is read.” The issue we found was that the human interprets that beep as a true read, but it can be false. The beverage packaging has improved to minimize that human data entry error with automated readers. But, it still exists. Is it a matter of education or training? Is it instead one more process and packaging issue? Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth Director, Transportation and Logistics, American Military University/American Public University
David Patton 2011-01-11 11:10:12 PM
RFID Training/Education The requirement for training of employees and operators that utilize RFID technology is becoming prevalent in the squeeze of today's economy and global distribution. In the article by Mr. Mark Roberti, “organizations and businesses remain more comfortable with legacy systems such as bar code readers vice passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification (RFID) systems”. The two biggest complaints mentioned in this article was based on apprehension and confidence in RFID system tag reads. This concern is present irregardless of the method used, hand-held or fixed readers in the execution of inventory on shelves, or to track pallets of goods. Retail, food, beverage, health and numerous businesses lose profit though their supply chain, distribution and stockage level reorder points due to inaccurate inventory, sale and reorders annually. The transportation system (local, national and and global) have utilized the RFID system with regularity and are able to track small minute parts along the entire distribution networks, ports, land, sea and air movements with great accuracy. The article by Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth Director, Transportation and Logistics, American Military University/American Public University “focused on the lack of know-how in the apparel, beverage and retail industries through packaging enabling the ability to misread and mis-scan multipacked item as singular items?” Retailers, warehouse managers and businesses to include the medical and health arena's are apprehensive and thereby undergo the drawbacks of the legacy systems or bar-code. An option could be simple, straight forward training venues or certification programs that can be initiated to assure the customer base that the quality control provided through the resourcing, implementation and execution of the the RFID system does indeed provide a cost advantage when properly utilized by trained personnel. Mr. David E. Patton, MBA, SCM – Optimization and Collaboration, LSS-GB

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