Europe Takes a Practical Approach to RFID

By Mark Roberti

More companies are embracing RFID as a technology that can deliver benefits today.

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When RFID Journal held its first conference and exhibition in Europe in 2005, there was a great deal of skepticism among end users in attendance about the ability to use radio frequency identification technologies to transform the global supply chain. Many companies in Europe were already using the technology in one way or another, so there was perhaps greater familiarity with the strengths and limitations of RFID. And there were well-reported problems with the first-generation Electronic Product Code (EPC) protocol. UHF systems simply didn’t work that well under European regulations.

The European Union revised the rules regarding RFID systems operating in the UHF spectrum, and last year, Metro and others revealed that their pilots showed great promise. At RFID Journal LIVE! Europe 2007, which we held last week in Amsterdam, there was little skepticism. Nor were there any unrealistic expectations that RFID would transform the global supply chain overnight. Rather, end users were focused on the practical benefits they could achieve today (see Europe's RFID Focus Moves to Implementation).

I got a wide-range of questions from end users: What frequency would work best to track pipes buried underground? What are the most suitable tags for goods moving between Asia, Europe and the United States? Which tags had the most effective security features for smart cards and for identifying documents? And how would the new EPC Information Service standard reduce the cost of integrating RFID with back-end systems?

I sensed a growing awareness in Europe that the “Internet of Things” might have been hyped in the United States (the way the Internet once was), but that the standards being created by EPCglobal were of great importance and would help ensure that companies could achieve benefits across the supply chain.

Attendees came from more than 20 countries. Some traveled from as far as Japan and the United States. All came for one thing: to understand how RFID could deliver benefits today.

Speakers from European companies—Airbus, Apo Conerpo, Centraal Boekhuis, Container Centralen, Metro and Vicaima —talked about the real benefits they are achieving today. We had speakers from companies in India, the Middle East and America discussing the benefits they are achieving as well.

There is no headlong rush to adopt RFID for adoption’s sake in Europe. And that’s a good thing. Instead, there is a well-thought-out, practical approach to using RFID to realize benefits such as monitoring production costs, improving inventory management, reducing supply-chain losses and tracking reusable assets. At the same time, some companies, such as Airbus and Metro, are keeping an eye on the long-term goals: achieving transformational internal and supply-chain benefits.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.