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University of Arkansas Study Finds 60 Ways to Use RFID in Apparel Supply Chain

Researchers say the results prove their hypothesis that there are a multitude of ways that item-level RFID tracking can benefit garment suppliers.
By Claire Swedberg
Some apparel suppliers participating in the study were already tagging products for large retailers, while others were not yet practicing RFID tagging. The study focused on the replenished apparel supply chain (RASC), which includes underwear, socks and other items that are produced year-round and vary little in style from one year to the next. On each visit to a facility, researchers interviewed one or more individuals. During these site visits, they found some practical restrictions to the deployment of RFID technology, including the layout of a preexisting building and constraint in available floor space, as well as taxation agreements (which can influence how inventory is routed from one country to another, in order to take optimal advantage of taxation laws) resulting in an inefficient routing of material.

The research and the resulting report, entitled "An Empirical Study of Potential Uses of RFID in the Apparel Retail Supply Chain," constitute the first phase of a three-part study, known as "Many-to-Many," that the University of Arkansas is conducting with funding from GS1 and the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA). The Many-to-Many project is intended to focus on the benefits to the apparel supply chain of deploying EPC Gen 2 passive RFID, as opposed to the benefits for apparel retailers, on which many previous item-level RFID apparel studies have focused. The term "Many-to-Many," the researchers wrote in their report, refers to a system whereby "suppliers provide RFID-tagged apparel to multiple retailers through a multitude of methods and channels and where retailers receive tagged apparel from a host of different suppliers using similarly disparate methods."

With Phase 1 completed, researchers will now study some of the more far-reaching use cases on the list (those touching the most supply chain participants). Following that step, the group plans to launch Phase III to oversee and measure the results of a full pilot, to include multiple suppliers, distribution centers and retailers from various companies.

Since completing the report describing the study's results this month, researchers have begun the process of selecting business use cases that it will test, as well as the apparel companies that will participate in the pilot during Phase II. Cromhout says he expects at least one pilot project to focus on inbound-outbound benefits, since that is a widely adoptable use-case category for suppliers. "They [suppliers] all have a door where stuff goes in, and they all have a door where stuff goes out," he states. In addition, the group will likely select a business case that represents inventory management, and another that falls in the quality-management category. He speculates that Phase II pilots will be completed by the end of 2011, while Phase III will be more challenging since it will require the participation of many retailers and suppliers within the industry. The date for that study has not yet been set.

A copy of "An Empirical Study of Potential Uses of RFID in the Apparel Retail Supply Chain" can be downloaded for free at the RFID Research Center's Web site.

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