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Altria, FedEx Stress Collaboration, Standards

Altria's Jim Noble said the company has its eyes on item-level tagging. He and FedEx's Kevin Humphries stressed the need for technology standards to enable widely deployed RFID applications.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Tags: Standards
FedEx has already deployed 120,000 tags in its internal operations for tracking assets, such as handtrucks, as well as for building access control and vehicle access and ignition. Humphries said that while FedEx has "great visibility with bar codes" for tracking packages inside FedEx facilities, RFID could benefit FedEx if it was used to verify the delivery of packages to its customers.

FedEx is conducting a number of pilot tests to determine where deploying RFID for package tracking could provide the greatest value, Humphries said. In one particular pilot, sensors (such as temperature monitors) are used to track the condition of perishable goods and other shipments.

Kevin Humphries
However, Humphries pointed out that the passive-tag technology the company is testing is far from honed. At a pilot test site in Springfield, Mo., FedEx is seeing read rates of more than 80 percent with EPC Gen 2 UHF tags and readers, though the technology is not performing as well as needed for real-world deployment. "At one dock door, we can get read rates in the high 80s [percent] but only with a lot of engineering work. That doesn't meet the model of deploying the technology in thousands of dock doors," he says.

While Altria and FedEx are looking to RFID to address different business problems, and are taking alternate approaches to testing and deploying the technology, both Noble and Humphries agreed that the technology will be of no real value without technology standardization and the cooperation of business partners. "There are many customers who ask us if we support RFID, but there are millions of others who don't use the technology," Humphries explained.

Still, Humphries said he expects standardization to enable wider use of the technology. Noble, meanwhile, said that the collaboration of Altria's business partners regarding item-level RFID tagging will transform his company's businesses. Track and trace applications of RFID at the case and pallet level, on the other hand, are helpful because they can be used to fight the introduction of counterfeit products, but they can not justify the costs of deploying the technology.

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