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Wegmans Eyeing RFID for Prescription Management

The supermarket operator is planning to test whether placing RFID tags on customers' prescription orders will make locating and ringing up the orders faster and more accurate.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Customers will be encouraged to keep the RFID inlay embedded in each bottle or pill packet intact, but Wegmans will install a tag kill station at the stores, or set up a protocol to have prescriptions relabeled with a non-RFID label, at the customers' discretion. In addition, the supermarket operator plans to interrogate tags on the empty bottles customers return to the pharmacy for refilling.

Wegmans is still looking for technology partners with whom it can work to get the trial up and running, according to Merulla and Parker. Before initiating the pilot, the retailer also plans to run a comprehensive consumer awareness campaign, designed to educate customers on how and why it is testing RFID.

Mike Merulla
This won't be Wegmans' first foray into RFID. The company initiated a test of the technology in its meat manufacturing facility in 2005. "We chose our meat manufacturing facility to do our pilot because we wanted to learn [about RFID] at the pallet and case level," says Kristin Andersen, Wegmans' project manager. "We chose a part of [our] supply chain internal to Wegmans, a closed-loop system, but one that is spread among multiple facilities."

Passive EPC Gen 2 tags were attached to totes that carry cuts of meat, and also to the pallets used to transport the totes from the meat processing plant to a Wegmans meat distribution center. The tote and pallet tags were read upon receipt at the DC, and the tags were read again as the totes were shipped from the distribution center to individual stores, enabling the company to track individual cuts of meat from manufacturing to the point of shipment to stores.

Wegmans considered the test a proving ground for the effectiveness of EPC Gen 2 tags in an environment containing high moisture levels and a lot of metal machinery, both of which can pose RF interference. The results showed that the totes were successfully read 95 to 98 percent of the time. To carry out the pilot, the retailer partnered with VeriSign, which supplied RFID consulting services, Zebra Technologies, which provided RFID label printer-encoders, and ThingMagic, which furnished RFID interrogators.

Wegmans plans to transfer the knowledge it gained from the meat-tracking pilot to the in-store pharmacy trial. The supermarket operator hopes the pharmacy tests will help it ascertain how RFID technology and an EPC data-sharing infrastructure would impact its processes, systems, employees, customers and suppliers.

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