Metro Launches RFID Test Center

By Jonathan Collins

European retailer Metro Group opened up a facility to provide its suppliers with a way to explore and experience the technology in a retail setting.


Just months away from implementing RFID in its own supply chain, European retailer Metro Group opened today a new facility to help its suppliers, as well as its own sales divisions and technology partners, familiarize themselves with the technology.

Metro’s new RFID Innovation Center is designed for any supplier that wants to explore the available technology and test how its RFID plans will integrate with Metro’s own deployment. Located within an existing warehouse operated by the company’s Kaufhof division in Neuss-Norf, the center is close to the company’s Düsseldorf headquarters and its Extra Future Store supermarket in Rheinberg. The company believes the timing of the center’s launch gives its partners time to prepare and familiarize themselves ahead of the first phase of Metro’s introduction of RFID into its supply chain starting in November 2004.

“Nobody has a place to see all RFID applications or different companies’ offerings. This is the only place to see them all,” says Metro Group spokesperson Albrecht von Truchsess.

According to the Metro Group, the Innovation Center is another step in the company’s strategy of cooperation in working with suppliers to adopt RFID. The center will let Metro Group partners acquire experience with the technology by testing it under real-life conditions. The focus will be on RFID readers, tags and smart labels used for different merchandize categories, packaging units and applications, and the company says an array of technology vendors equipment and solutions will be available at the center for its suppliers to examine.

In the four large rooms that comprise the center, different test areas will be available, including a simulated sales floor for clothing as well as a supermarket with food products. In addition, the goods-in and goods-out gates of the Kaufhof warehouse will be equipped with RFID readers and infrastructure.

“The largest companies have driven their own RFID deployments because they already see how it works, but some smaller and midsize suppliers are still examining the technology, and the Innovation Center is the best surrounding for that,” says von Truchsess.

In January, Metro Group announced the first phase of RFID deployment in its supply chain, which would see the company roll out RFID systems at its 10 central distribution centers and at approximately 50 of its German stores as well as have its 100 largest suppliers attach RFID tags to pallets and cases of goods starting in November.

That plan has been refined so that now only around 20 suppliers will start tagging shipments in November; the other 80 suppliers will be gradually added to the scheme throughout 2005. In November, eight of Metro’s central warehouses and 250 locations of its Metro Cash & Carry, Real and Kaufhof sales divisions in Germany—about one third of the company’s German outlets—will have RFID deployed at their receiving docks.

RFID trailblazers Proctor & Gamble, Gillette and Kraft will be among the first 20 suppliers to apply RFID tags to their shipments to Metro.

Metro Group has been testing RFID since April 2003, when it opened its Extra Future Store supermarket. That store showcases a range of emerging technologies such as intelligent scales, smart shelves and electronic price labels as well as some item-level RFID tagging.

Already a number of vendors have announced their involvement in the Innovation Center. Everett, Wash.-based Intermec Technologies is supplying RFID forklift, conveyor and dock door readers for the center, as well as RFID-enabled mobile computers and printers. While Toronto-based SAMSys Technologies says it has already installed its readers at the Innovation Center.

IBM is providing systems integration services as well as its WebSphere-based RFID and data management software which will help integrate suppliers’ processes into Metro’s own supply chain. IBM is also supplying an RFID tag deactivator kiosk.

Also at the Innovation Center, VeriSign, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that provides digital security and network infrastructure services, will include a demonstration of EPCglobal Network services for monitoring and tracking products throughout the supply chain.

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