Europe Leads the Way for RFID

By Mark Roberti

European retailers, manufacturers and other companies have embraced radio frequency identification, and the vast productivity improvements that the technology brings, at a faster pace than businesses in any other region.

As I write this, I am flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, on my way to London to host our 15th annual RFID Journal LIVE! Europe conference and exhibition. It's always valuable for me to get to Europe and hear from existing and potential users of radio frequency identification technologies, because their perspectives are different than those of executives in the United States.

RFID is not a radical new technology for many in Europe. Companies have been using passive HF RFID tags and readers at laundries, on ski slopes and for tracking parts bins since before I launched RFID Journal in 2002. What's more, many cities and municipalities have used the technology for years to track waste bins, as well as to measure and encourage recycling efforts.

I think Europeans were far more comfortable with RFID when it first gained the business world's attention back in 2003, when Walmart announced it wanted its top suppliers to tag all pallets and cases shipped to the retailer. But I also think there is more to it than just familiarity. After all, no one was familiar with the iPhone before Apple launched that product, yet that didn't stop millions of people from embracing it.

Maybe it's the stock market. U.S. companies are focused almost completely on hitting quarterly numbers. Embracing a new way of managing your business is not possible without making some investments and possibly missing a quarterly target. Of course, failing to embrace new technology out of fear means eventually falling behind—but as long as no one acts, no one falls behind.

This way of thinking is dangerous and could prove fatal to a company. Online retailers, for example, are growing at a far faster rate than conventional brick-and-mortar retailers. The latter are trying to catch up, but if your inventory accuracy is at 65 percent and people constantly fail to find what they are looking for at your stores, you will inevitably lose ground to online companies and new competitors that embrace superior technologies and thus gave far greater accuracy.

European manufacturers, too, seem to be more willing to embrace RFID. Some U.S. companies will employ RFID to track tools or parts bins, but few have embraced the technology in the way that Airbus, Daimler (which is speaking on Tuesday) and others have done. Competition these days is global, and I have no doubt that as adoption grows in Europe, it will force businesses in other regions to start adopting RFID as well. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing some great new case studies from our speakers at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.