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Best RFID Implementation: Keeping Tabs on Printers

Hewlett-Packard Brazil is a winner of the first annual RFID Journal Awards. By tagging individual printers, HP has not only gained visibility into its supply chain but also is addressing inefficiencies in its manufacturing and distribution processes.
By Jill Gambon
Jun 01, 2007On May 2, 2007, RFID Journal presented the first-ever RFID Journal Awards for outstanding achievement in radio frequency identification technology, at RFID Journal LIVE! 2007, our fifth annual conference and exhibition. Hewlett-Packard Brazil was the winner for Best RFID Implementation.

Hewlett-Packard Brazil created an RFID lab in Sao Paolo to test RFID equipment in the environment in which it would be used. The rollout was methodical and incremental. Since the RFID system went into full production in 2006, more than 2 million items have been tagged.

To better track its consumer products, HP launched a pilot project in Brazil in late 2004 using radio frequency identification technologies to tag individual printers and ink-jet cartridges. The company had some experience with RFID—it began tagging cases and pallets of products in 2002, in part to comply with Wal-Mart and U.S. Department of Defense mandates. Overall, it has implemented RFID at some 26 manufacturing sites around the world, including tagging printer boxes at its Memphis, Tenn., facility. But in Brazil, HP decided to take its RFID efforts one step further. The company believed that by tagging each printer from assembly, it could realize benefits not only in supply chain management but also in its manufacturing and distribution processes. In addition, the tags could be used to identify and track products returned to the factory for repairs under warranty.

Since its RFID system went into full production in Brazil in August 2006, HP has tagged more than 2 million items. With the increased visibility into the whereabouts of its products, HP Brazil estimates that it has been able to reduce its printer inventory in the supply chain by 17 percent—and says it is now closer to perfect order fulfillment. HP Brazil is not yet tracking products to any retailers.

Another big benefit of item-level tagging is the insight HP has gained into its operations—from the manufacturing line to the distribution center and warranty repair service, says Kami Saidi, operations director for HP Brazil. By tagging each printer from assembly, HP now knows, for example, how long each printer spends at each station on the assembly line and how long a printer sits in a temporary storage area. The company is analyzing that data so it can remedy any problems—whether in equipment or work processes—that might be slowing down production and distribution.

HP is also using the RFID tags to create a "DNA" for each printer. By saving unique information to each tag—such as testing results, install-by dates for cartridges and product destination—HP can identify and track printers that are returned for repairs under warranty. The company says that having a full record of a printer's history has improved its repair service and made the return of printers to customers more efficient.
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