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The Truth About RFID Adoption

Wal-Mart, the U.S. Department of Defense, Boeing and Hewlett-Packard explain, in their own words, how their rollouts are proceeding.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 08, 2007There's been a tremendous amount of misinformation surrounding the pace of RFID adoption in the mainstream press. So for EPC Connection 2007—the fourth annual EPCglobal North America conference and exhibition, held last week in Chicago—we gathered the prime movers in four key industries to tell the audience directly how their rollouts are proceeding and what their adoption plans are. On stage were:

Carolyn Walton, VP of information technology at Wal-Mart Stores
Kenneth Porad, an associate technical fellow at Boeing
Bradley Cougher, a senior consultant at the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)
Didier Chenneveau, VP and general manager of Americas operations for Hewlett-Packard (HP)

Walton countered claims that Wal-Mart's RFID efforts are fizzling, affirming that the company is moving ahead with its rollout. She also revealed three new initiatives not previously reported on. One involved "hot spots," or high-traffic locations in the stores. Wal-Mart has asked suppliers to tag goods or promotions bound for these hot spots, to improve its ability to ensure goods are in these locations when they are supposed to be. That increases sales for Wal-Mart, and for the supplier as well.

According to Walton, Wal-Mart has initiated a trial involving air fresheners, in which cases from all suppliers are tagged, rather than just one or two. That will enable the retailer to determine if RFID can provide a sales lift across an entire category, benefiting all suppliers. The University of Arkansas's RFID Research Center, she said, is conducting an independent analysis of the trial results, which will be released later this month. The anecdotal evidence gathered so far, she added, has seemed positive. What's more, she said, Wal-Mart has asked 700 suppliers to tag cases and pallets bound for Texas-area Sam's Clubs. Currently, only 73 companies are tagging goods bound for the stores.

Porad, meanwhile, admitted Boeing has not moved as quickly as it had originally planned, explaining that the company would never deploy any technology unless it was completely satisfied it would work as it was supposed to. Boeing needed a special EPC tag that could carry 64 KB of data to store parts histories, Porad said, but the chip for such a tag was not yet ready. He noted that the company would begin implementing its plans as soon as it was satisfied the tags available on the market could meet its needs.

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