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Automotive Groups Agree on RFID Guidelines for RTIs

The multinational Joint Automotive Industry Forum is about to release a set of requirements and recommendations for implementing RFID technology to track returnable transport items—the reusable containers used by that sector.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 12, 2010After five years spent discussing, writing and editing, research members of the global Joint Automotive Industry Forum (JAIF) will soon release RFID guidelines for returnable transport items (RTIs), such as containers, pallets and other reusable assets, used to transport parts and assemblies through the automotive supply chain. This is being done in an effort to address the lack of an international standard to ensure container visibility between supply chain members, which often leads to lost containers and delayed production.

JAIF is an international organization created by four automotive associations: the United States' Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), Europe's Odette International Ltd., the Japan Automotive Manufacturers Association (JAMA) and the Japan Auto Parts Industries Association (JAPIA).

The group was conceived in Stuttgart, Germany, at a 2005 meeting of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), recalls Patrick King, a global electronic specialist for Michelin. At that time, King was discussing with VDA members the need for a global automotive standard for tracking returnable assets by sharing data. "At the time, RTIs were all closed-loop," he says, meaning that only the RTIs' owners could track the locations of containers and similar assets. Bar-coded labels, he adds, were predominantly in use, rather than RFID tags. The group's first project was the development of the "Global Guideline for Returnable Transport (RTI) Identification," which will be published later this month. JAMA and JAPIA led the effort and wrote the initial document, while all organizations participated in discussions and provided editing.

The 100-page document spells out rules for storing data on RFID tags so that it can be shared among multiple parties in the automotive supply chain throughout the world, says Bill Hoffman, the chair of AIAG's RFID Work Group and the founder and managing director of RFID and bar-code software and integration firm Hoffman Systems. As part of the guideline-development project, the group carried out a study to prove the feasibility of encoding multiple types of data on a single tag in order to enable, for example, a parts manufacturer to encode information to it, while allowing a distributor or automotive manufacturer to write additional data on a separate section of that tag (see Automotive Project Shows a Single RFID Tag Can Carry Data Encoded by Multiple Users).

JAIF's guideline takes the data-storage recommendations a step further, by stipulating which kinds of RFID technology can be used—EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags—as well as which printed identification media (such as labels printed with linear bar codes, or QR and Data Matrix 2-D bar codes) should used in conjunction with RFID tags for returnable transport items, in order to ensure multiple participants in a supply chain have the ability to use the data to identify each tagged RTI.

Before the group began developing the guideline, it conducted a survey in late 2005 to gain an understanding of how many companies in the automotive industry were using RFID, along with the obstacles faced by non-adopters. The survey found that the cost of inefficiency in tracking the locations of RTIs in the supply chain included operational downtime due to a loss of loose packing material and a shortage of containers, as well as the cost of replacing missing containers. What's more, the survey noted that a lack of return-on-investment (ROI) justification and a dearth of industry-wide standards were two major obstacles to RFID's adoption.

The group's main objective, says Morris Brown, AIAG's program manager for supply chain management, was to establish a set of rules that could be employed by automotive manufacturers, suppliers and distributors, in order to share RTI data. "You've got to have something for people to go on before they can adopt the technology," he says. "Hopefully, people will use the guideline as they look into the technology on a pilot basis." Already, he notes, many manufacturers and suppliers are piloting RFID systems in closed-loop scenarios. But with JAIF's guidelines, he indicates, developing pilots between several supply chain partners should be easier, since the document spells out a tag's technical requirements, in addition to how data is to be stored on that tag. "Hopefully, with the guideline, we will see greater RFID adoption," Brown says. "That's the ultimate goal."

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