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Lessons Learned from RFID Training, Part 1

I just returned from a three-day RFID training course at the RFID Global Solutions Innovation Center in Arkansas, just a few miles away from Bentonville. This is the first of a two-part series about what I learned.
Jun 23, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

June 23, 2005—I just returned from a three-day Top Gun RFID training course at the RFID Global Solutions (RFIDGS) headquarters and Innovation Center in Rogers, Arkansas, just a few miles away from Bentonville, ground zero of the mandate that has exploded RFID from also-ran, niche technology to the supply chain movement it is today. I want to share my thoughts on the event and what it says about RFID technology in general. In today's column I'll describe the training, then tomorrow I'll elaborate on key take-away points.

The training was led primarily by three RFIDGS employees -- Louis Sirico, Fred Kresal, and Joe Leone -- who between them have decades of RFID experience and have worked on highly publicized retailer mandates.

There were about 13 attendees whose employers ran the gamut from a well-known consumer packaged goods manufacturer to a lesser-known, behind-the-scenes logistics firm. Attendees' level of knowledge also varied widely; for a couple this was almost their first exposure to RFID, others had already gotten their hands dirty with minor deployments, and still others were involved in closed-loop implementations that were totally outside the realm of vendor mandates.

I took the Intermediate course (they also offered a more technical Advanced course later in the week), which combined high-level concepts, technological education, and hands-on demonstrations. Topics covered included an analysis of the pros and cons of slap-and-ship, an update on the RFID mandate landscape, an overview of the EPCglobal network, example financial models to realize ROI, and achieving real business benefit from an RFID implementation. There was also a section devoted to RFID tags, in which various packaging and product materials were assessed vis-à-vis the most appropriate tag and tag placement to use with them. The material assumed a base level of knowledge, both about RFID and supply chain management.

The training led off with a walk-through of the Innovation Center, which is a RFIDGS-designed miniaturized model supply chain that compresses the dock door, checkout counter, and all points in between into a one hundred by fifty foot area. We saw an example box of tagged goods, in this case athletic wear, arrive at the dock door, travel through the warehouse, arrive at the backroom, pass into the retail store, sit on a store shelf, be picked up by a hypothetical shopper and enter a dressing room, and finally be purchased at the register and exit the store. At all points, RFID readers registered the presence of the tagged product and updated its location and inventory levels in realtime. Later we went through the walk-through again, this time shown the nuts-and-bolts of how the system worked. It was striking to see under the hood, particularly in the store section, given how well hidden from the user's view all of the RFID hardware was.

In tomorrow's column I will write about take-aways from the training, but I want to stress an overall impression now: RFID is a complex and still relatively immature technology for which expertise is absolutely required to be successful. Be sure to read tomorrow's Update to learn about what implications this has for today's deployments.

See the Top Gun RFID Training Course website
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