Europe Takes the Lead

By Mark Roberti

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In the late 1990s, American companies liked to boast that they led the Internet revolution, implying that the United States was still the dominant economic and technological power. And a few years later, the United States did jump-start the next technological evolution—radio frequency identification and wireless sensors. It was mainly U.S. companies that backed the Auto-ID Center and promoted adoption of the Electronic Product Code (EPC). But as our cover story in this issue clearly shows, Europe is taking the lead in adopting RFID technologies.

While Wal-Mart evaluates its RFID options, the Metro Group is pushing RFID into new areas of its business and working with RFID vendors to develop technology to meet its needs. The German retailer is not only RFID-tagging all pallets shipped to its supermarkets and wholesale food stores in Germany, it’s also working with DHL to track the movement of pallets to about 90 stores in France. Gerd Wolfram, Metro Group’s managing director of information technology, will be a keynote speaker at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe 2009, which will take place on Oct. 19-21, in Frankfurt, Germany.

American Apparel and other U.S. fashion retailers have begun to deploy RFID to track inventory, but no company in the United States has gone as far as the Charles Vögele Group. The Swiss retailer and 2009 RFID Journal Award winner for Best RFID Implementation is tracking individual garments from the point of manufacture to the point of sale. Karstadt, Krause Outlet, NP Collection, Throttleman and other European apparel retailers are also deploying the technology at the item level. Thomas Beckmann, Charles Vögele’s VP of group supply-chain management, will also be a guest speaker at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe.

Unlike U.S. transportation companies, which have remained largely on RFID’s sidelines waiting for their customers to start tagging goods before they deploy the technology, European transportation providers are taking a proactive role. DHL has worked with pharmaceutical companies to use RFID sensors to ensure sensitive drugs are not exposed to temperatures outside an acceptable range. Other logistics providers are tracking shipments for customers, and companies that pool supply-chain assets have deployed large-scale RFID solutions.

Boeing and Airbus worked together several years ago to promote RFID standards for aerospace, but Airbus, the 2008 RFID Journal Award winner for Best RFID Implementation, is clearly in the lead. Airbus has taken RFID to a strategic level by deploying the technology as infrastructure across its manufacturing and supply-chain operations. Its goal is to use RFID to dramatically reduce its operational costs, as well as those of its suppliers and customers.

Elsewhere in this issue, we examine the growing importance of RFID in the energy sector. Increasingly, oil, gas and chemical companies see RFID as an effective way to track assets, products in the supply chain, and people in facilities that contain hazardous materials. And we look at software that can help companies analyze RFID retail and supply-chain data to improve business processes and increase revenues.

To be sure, many of the RFID products helping companies achieve real business benefits come from the United States. But there’s no doubt that when it comes to adoption, Europe is now the clear leader.

Photograph: Tom Hurst