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Can RFID Improve Supply Chain Visibility?
Is radio frequency identification useful for increasing the flow of information as a product is moved from a supplier to a customer?
Yes, it is—assuming that partners are willing to share data. EPCglobal has developed standards not just for identifying products flowing through a supply chain, but also for sharing information securely. In the consumer packaged goods industry, retailers and suppliers agreed upon a standardized way of sharing information about a product's location (using GS1's Global Location Number), the business process through which that item was going when a tag was read (shipping, receiving, merchandising and so forth) and the state of the object (for sale, sold or damaged).
As a result of this groundbreaking work, Wal-Mart has been sharing information with suppliers willing to tag their products. Suppliers can use software to analyze the data shared by Wal-Mart to know, for instance, that a pallet has arrived at a specific warehouse, that a case has been shipped from that location, that it arrived at the store and that it has been put on the store floor.
Boeing and Airbus have been working together to create standards for their suppliers and customers. This would enable an aircraft manufacturer to know when a part was shipped, a supplier to know when it arrived, and potentially an airline to look up that part's entire history, during the maintenance of that plane.
This level of visibility and data sharing can be accomplished with bar codes and other automatic-identification technologies, but the labor required to collect all of the data would be too costly. RFID allows this information to be collected without human intervention, and EPCglobal has created the standards for sharing it.
Now, companies just need to find applications for the technology that would enable supply chain partners to achieve shared benefits.
—Mark Roberti, Editor, RFID Journal
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