Learning From the Experts

By Mark Roberti

Highlights from the recent RFID Journal LIVE! Europe event, held last week in Oslo, show that the technology can deliver benefits in many ways.


We had a lot of great sessions and presentations at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe—Scandinavia, held on Oct. 24-25 in Oslo, Norway. These sessions were based on real-world radio frequency identification deployments in manufacturing, retail and other industries. A few highlights are presented below; look for a full report, including video presentations from the conference, on Nov. 12.

Carlo Nizam, Airbus‘ head of value chain visibility and RFID, told attendees: “You can’t improve what you can’t measure [a process], and you can’t manage what you can’t see or know. The role of RFID for Airbus is to improve that visibility, which is a prerequisite to achieving savings.”

Kris Doane, a consultant for American Apparel, filled in for CIO Stacey Shulman, who was unable to attend for personal reasons. The technology, Doane said, offers managers at the corporate level the ability to quickly determine if there are problems at any stores, and to then react quickly.

Doane showed a table revealing that one store had 507 discrepancies between its RFID data and the conventional inventory system’s information, meaning it was possible for RFID data to indicate that an item existed even if it was not listed in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, or vice versa. The table indicated that inventory discrepancies existed at other stores as well. “At the same time we started to roll out RFID, we also started rolling out an [electronic article surveillance] system,” he told the audience. “What we found is that the stores that had both RFID and EAS reduced their shrink by 25 percent more than the stores that just used EAS.”

RFID alone cannot guarantee that a retailer will increase sales, Doane warned attendees. “What it’s about is a better-managed store, more accurate inventory and staff that are more empowered to do their jobs,” he explained. “When they are empowered to do their jobs, they do them better.”

Doane reported that American Apparel “has seen a sales uplift,” adding, “We are not comfortable saying it is because of RFID, but it is certainly because of the things RFID has done for us.”

One of my favorite presentations was offered by Glyn Matthews, the senior IT project manager of Speedy Services, a U.K.-based provider of equipment rental and support services to the construction, infrastructure, rail and industrial sectors. Speedy’s customers can have equipment delivered to their sites—the company maintains a fleet of 1,200 vehicles—or collect the equipment from one of the firm’s 320 nationwide depots. But some of its largest clients wanted a more specialized level of service: an on-site depot offering flexible hours to accommodate their work crews’ schedules (see RFID Helps U.K. Tool-Rental Company Better Serve Customers).

Speedy knew it had to meet those clients’ demands or risk losing them as customers. But providing such a service would require a delivery van containing a large stock of tools and equipment, as well as a Speedy employee dispatched to each customer’s site to conduct transactions. That amounted to a great deal of labor and travel cost, Matthews said.

In September 2010, Speedy began developing a self-service equipment storage and rental solution that would be a cost-effective way to provide the continuous access that clients needed in order to meet work crews’ requirements. It would also enable the firm to service clients lacking geographical access to its depots. The system it developed consists of a standard shipping container that is RFID-enabled, as well as the RFID-tagged tools stored within that container. This allows Speedy and its customers to view what is checked in and out.

Speedy told its customers they would not be charged for tools that were not checked out of the so-called “ePods.” Normally, a customer would rent, say, 20 tools for a week, and pay for all 20 items, even if only 10 were used. With the RFID system in place, managers at both companies can now see that only 10 were utilized. The RFID solution lets Speedy provide a high level of service to its customers, as well as lower rental costs.

I asked Matthews why Speedy would want to deploy a system that actually lowered its customers’ costs (and thus his company’s revenue). He said customers pay to rent ePods, so they recover some of the lost revenue that way, but the system also saves his company money. One way it does so is by reducing the amount of time that Speedy’s technicians must travel to job sites. Tools often need to be recalibrated or serviced after a certain period of time. Instead of sending a trained technician, Speedy now knows what is on a job site and requires maintenance, and sends an unskilled driver to retrieve these items and drop off replacements. That means trained technicians are not sitting in traffic, but rather servicing tools at Speedy’s facility. The solution also helps the company receive payments to replace damaged goods.

It strikes me as a real benefit if a company can provide a higher level of service to its customers at a lower cost. That binds a firm to those customers—and if RFID offsets the cost, it means a company can achieve a competitive advantage without increasing costs. If it weren’t such a cliché, I would say this was a win-win for Speedy and its customers.

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, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.