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How To Get RFID Compliant

What does it take to comply with Wal-Mart’s RFID tagging requirements? RFID Journal was given an exclusive look at the rigorous testing of personal-care products at the Sensormatic RFID Performance Center.
By Bob Violino
Jul 20, 2004—Wal-Mart has set the bar high for its suppliers. RFID tags, or labels, on pallets of products have to be read 100 percent of the time as they are driven through a dock door at 8 mph. Tags on cases also have to be read with perfect accuracy after the pallets are broken down and the cases are put on conveyors moving at speeds of up to 540 feet per minute. If a company has dozens of different products, each with its own special characteristics, ensuring compliance can be quite a challenge.

Results of all tests are recorded in a Tyco database

Just how much of a challenge? We decided to find out. Tyco Fire & Security recently gave RFID Journal permission to enter its Sensormatic RFID Performance Center in Boca Raton, Fla. Tyco established the center to help companies achieve compliance and internal benefits from RFID (Tyco acquired Sensormatic Electronics Corp. in 2001). A consumer products company that’s among Wal-Mart’s top 100 suppliers agreed to let us see all the testing that was done on one of the dozens of products it ships to the Bentonville, Ark.–based retailer, but the manufacturer asked us not to use its name or the name of its products in the article.

Tyco has tried to simulate real-world conditions by putting its test center in an area of a functioning warehouse, between a repair center and a shipping and receiving facility. The Performance Center has a wireless warehouse management system, machinery and other elements that help ensure that the results approximate what companies will experience in an operational warehouse.

The Performance Center has two facilities: the Compliance Testing Lab, which tests for compliance with mandates and the Integration Testing Lab, which does tests that help suppliers deploy RFID for internal efficiencies (see Beyond Compliance).

For this one manufacturer, Tyco spent more than a month running some 13,000 individual tests on 19 pallets of product and 20 individual products (Tyco charges for its services based on the number of stock keeping units a company wants to test). The complete report delivered to its client ran more than 185 pages, including photographs of RFID labels with the proper orientation and placement on the product. Here’s a look at how the tests were conducted.

In this instance, the customer chose the products it wanted to test. For other clients, Tyco will examine a company’s product portfolio and select products that represent the overall portfolio. (If a company ships several kinds of shampoo, there may be no need to test each one separately.)
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