Following Europe’s Lead

By Mark Roberti

When it comes to adopting RFID, European companies are clearly out in front—and businesses elsewhere in the world would do well to take note.


American companies liked to boast that they led the Internet revolution, implying the United States was still the dominant economic and technological power in the world. The United States did jump out in front in the next technological evolution—radio frequency identification and wireless sensors. It was primarily U.S. firms that backed the Auto-ID Center and promoted the adoption of the Electronic Product Code (EPC). But as the cover story in the latest issue of our print magazine (see Europe Gets Down to Business)—as well as the incredible lineup of speakers at our upcoming RFID Journal LIVE! Europe 2009 event—clearly show, Europe is taking the lead in adopting RFID technologies.

While Wal-Mart is evaluating its RFID options, Metro Group is pushing the technology into new areas of its business, and is working with RFID vendors to develop RFID 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 is also working with DHL to track the movement of all pallets to at least 89 stores in France. Metro commissioned Avery Dennison to develop an EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tag that would improve performance, and the retailer is now achieving nearly 100 percent read rates, even on pallets loaded with products containing liquid or packaged in metal cans, which can impede tag reads.

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—the 2009 RFID Journal Award winner for best RFID implementation (see Charles Vögele Group Finds RFID Helps It Stay Competitive and Vögele, Vail, FOCUS and ODIN Technologies Win RFID Journal Awards)—is tracking individual garments from the point of manufacture to the point of sale. Charles Vögele’s Thomas Beckmann and Metro’s Gerd Wolfram will speak at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe, along with other leading retailers: Wilhelm Stock, owner of Krause Outlet; Ralph Tröger, Gerry Weber International‘s IT project manager; Markus Wyss, Manor‘s vice director and head of supply-chain development; and Markus Rosendahl, NP Collection‘s business development director.

Unlike U.S. transportation companies, which have largely remained on RFID’s sidelines, waiting for customers to tag goods before deploying the technology, European transportation providers are taking a proactive role. DHL has worked with pharmaceutical firms to utilize 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 it’s Airbus—the 2008 RFID Journal Award winner for best RFID implementation (see Profits in Motion)—that’s 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. The firm’s goal is to employ RFID to dramatically reduce operational costs for itself, its suppliers and its airline customers.

Does the fact that European companies use RFID more than their counterparts in other parts of the world mean these firms will thump the competition in global markets? No, of course not—but what it does mean is that they will deliver more value to their shareholders, because they are squeezing out inefficiencies and maximizing profits in a tough economy. And they might have a competitive edge because they are more efficient.

To be sure, there are some innovative RFID projects in the United States, Asia and Latin America. And many of the products helping companies achieve real business benefits come from the Asia and the United States. (A number of these technologies will be on display in our exhibit hall at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe.) But there is no doubt that when it comes to adoption, Europe is now the clear leader.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.