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Staples' Canadian Unit Plans RFID Trial

Staples, three of its suppliers and UPS Supply Chain Solutions are working with Bell Canada to evaluate RFID for shipping and receiving office products.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 18, 2005Staples Business Depot, Staples Inc.'s 240-store Canadian unit, along with three of its suppliers and a logistics provider, are carrying out a two-phase field trial to evaluate the benefits of deploying EPC technology. The participants in the first phase are Unisource, which provides private-label office paper goods to Staples; and logistics provider UPS Supply Chain Solutions, the supply chain business arm of the United Parcel Service. Fellowes and Acco, both manufacturers of office products, will join the trial in its second phase.

All participants are members of the Supply Chain Network Project, a consortium of retailers, suppliers and logistics providers (see Group Studies Supply Chain Technology). The group is managed by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada and led by Jeff Ashcroft, vice president of logistics and supply chain, in PWC's Advisory Services. The member organizations of the Supply Chain Network Project collaborate on projects aimed at bringing new technologies into the supply chain. The Supply Chain Network Project is leading the trial. Bell Enterprise Group, an information communications and technology arm of Canadian telecommunications firm Bell Canada, is working with all participants and technology providers and serving as systems integrator.

Andrew Mitchell, Bell Enterprise Group
John-Pierre Kamel, the RFID practice leader for the Bell Enterprise Group and the project's lead integrator , says his group has begun architecting the project, working with Houston-based Shipcom Wireless to design the software that will be used in the trial, joining with the Supply Chain Network Project to build the business case for the trial's initial and later phases, and establishing the workflow. Holtsville, N.Y.-based Symbol Technologies will provide RFID readers (interrogators) operating at 915 MHz and compliant with the EPC Class 1 Gen 2 standard. Bell Enterprise Group has not yet selected a source of the Gen 2 smart labels it will use in the trial. Participants will use a Symbol handheld RFID interrogator to encode the RFID tag embedded in the smart labels during the first phase of the trial. But the architects of the trial have not yet decided if the participants will use RFID printer-encoders or these handheld devices to encode the tag during the second half of the trial.

"The manufacturers will be taking a slap-and-ship approach to tagging," says Andrew Mitchell, director of wireless solutions for Bell Enterprise Group. Should these companies decide to continue evaluating the technology after this project is completed, however, they will move the tagging of the cases back to the point of manufacturing, he says.

For the first phase of the trial, which will last 45 days, Unisource will tag selected cases and pallets of goods bound for either a Staples Business Depot store or an RFID-enabled Staples distribution center. Both the store and the DC are in the Toronto area. UPS Supply Chain Solutions, which operates a warehouse for Staples' private-label goods, will tag cases of these goods as well as those from a variety of manufacturers. It will aggregate thecases onto pallets in order to fulfill Staples' orders. The second phase of the trial will be identical to the first, with the exception that Fellowes and Acco will also begin shipping select cases and pallets with RFID labels to the Staples locations.

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