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Silent But Steady Progress

EPCglobal US brings together disparate groups to hammer out RFID standards.
By Mike Meranda
Aug 01, 2005—It may appear to some people that mandates are driving the adoption of Electronic Product Code technologies and that the lack of any new mandates over the past few months suggests a slowdown in EPC adoption. I have a different view. It is the work being done behind the scenes that is most critical: developing the standards and infrastructure needed to create the business case.

EPCglobal US has been working with the federal government and private industry on two missions that are critical to our country: the security of our supply lines to the military and the safety of the pharmaceutical drug supply. In both cases, RFID technology standards and processes need to be agreed on so goods can be tracked through the supply chain. EPCglobal brings together government bodies and trading partners—even competitors—so they can talk to each other and create solutions that serve all.

On May 11, the EPCglobal board of governors ratified a new standard for formatting tag data, which will help the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) secure its supply chain with RFID. The new standard incorporates the two major numbering schemes in use at the DOD: the Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code and the http://ct.dscp.dla.mil/Ascot/whatsadodaac.html Department of Defense Activity Address Code (DODAAC)>. It lets the DOD read one UHF EPC tag, while its 60,000 suppliers can continue to encode the tag with their current numbering schemes.

The ratification of this new standard is the result of roughly nine months of quarterly in-person meetings and weekly teleconferences. Participants included technology experts hired by the DOD to develop the standard and members of EPCglobal’s Fast Moving Consumer Goods Business Action Group, consisting of major manufacturers. When the group met either virtually or face-to-face, EPCglobal didn’t issue press releases; we believe the best way to build standards is with committed people in an environment that fosters collaboration—not with publicity.

EPCglobal US is also working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to secure the pharmaceutical supply chain using RFID. Members of the EPCglobal Healthcare and Life Sciences (HCLS) Business Action Group have been meeting quarterly for the past year to develop standards that would allow manufacturers, distributors and retailers to track the history of drugs in the supply chain so they can’t be siphoned off to the black market or replaced by counterfeits.

HCLS members, who represent pharmaceutical manufacturers, and representatives from retailer and distribution industry groups sit around conference tables or speakerphones and hash out what business issues the standards should solve. FDA representatives frequently attend to show support and lend guidance, but private industry is the driver here. When the group reaches a consensus, they’ll submit it to EPCglobal’s board of governors for ratification.

Then, the HCLS will divide into two groups: one to collaborate with the Hardware Action Group on an item-level tagging standard, the other to work with EPC Information Services on a standard for an electronic pedigree for pharmaceuticals.

You probably won’t hear a lot of hoopla as they make progress. But we’ll keep you apprised of significant developments.

Mike Meranda is president of EPCglobal US.
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