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Unlocking the Internet of Things

The key is EPCIS, a universal business language that brings value to IoT applications.
By Samuel Greengard
Jan 06, 2015

Norsk Lastbaerer Pool (NLP) is an Oslo-based company that manages returnable transport items (RTIs) for manufacturers and retailers in Norway and Sweden. It uses radio frequency identification to track and manage approximately 900,000 pallets and 1 million totes that are shipped to roughly 750 customers at 1,000 locations, nearly 98 percent of the Norwegian retail market. Each pallet is identified with four EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency RFID tags, to ensure the pallet can be read from any angle when it passes through an RFID portal, and each tote is identified with two tags. The tags are read when the RTIs arrive at NLP's main distribution center and when they are dispatched to a customer warehouse. At some customer locations, the tagged pallets and totes are read when they are sent to a retailer DC. In addition, some customers use the tagged RTIs to manage product shipments.

The RFID solution helps NLP better manage inventory and automates manual processes, such as paperwork. Some of NLP's customers use the system to improve their own supply-chain processes.

Illustration: iStockphoto
In Fukuroi City, Japan, a large agricultural center for rice, tea, melons and other products, logistics for individual farmers is prohibitively expensive. To streamline commerce, farmers attach RFID tags and bar codes to food packages and crates to identify their produce. Buyers then aggregate the goods to facilitate delivery, using a packaging and product management system, and to track shipments through the supply chain.

What these deployments have in common is that they both use the Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) standard to share data with their supply-chain partners and gain visibility into their business processes. EPCIS is the driving force behind the Internet of Things, in which any type of captured data on physical items is tracked and managed as the items move from company to company and country to country. That's because EPCIS gives businesses a common language to interpret the data.

There is an incredible amount of data moving around," says Ken Traub, president of Ken Traub Consulting. "But you have to have the right data to get business value. The EPCIS data model is unique in the way it connects RFID and bar-code data to business processes. Without EPCIS, an IoT platform can connect 'things' to the Internet, but the data might not have business meaning. EPCIS data makes it possible for businesses to build applications that derive real value from connected devices."

Traub, who helped create the EPCIS standard, which was introduced in 2006, says companies are increasingly putting EPCIS into production. While numerous pilots worldwide have proved its business value, he acknowledges that companies first had to get comfortable using RFID, and they did so with deployments within their own operations. Now, they have millions of tagged assets and other things, and they're looking at optimizing their supply chains to achieve additional benefits. "They turn to EPCIS, which offers a solid foundation for doing this," he says.

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