RFID and the New Normal

By Mark Roberti

RFID can't speed economic growth or strengthen consumer demand, but it can help companies become leaner, more efficient and more competitive.

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The U.S. economy continues to hobble along, with nearly 10 percent of workers unable to find a job. Europe has been burdened by concerns over the debt crisis in Greece and the financial challenges facing Italy and Spain. Consumers, not surprisingly, are keeping whatever money they have safely tucked away in their pockets.

It’s not a pretty picture if you run a company, and there is no turnaround in sight. What do you do after you’ve cut budgets and employees? Some companies are coping with the “new normal” by embracing cutting-edge technologies, including radio frequency identification, to reduce costs, streamline business processes and protect their bottom line. “Now businesses are being proactive by looking at ways to make things more efficient,” says Anthony Palermo, director of business development at the Academia RFID Centre of Excellence, in this issue’s cover story (see Cover Story).

Zimmer Ohio, a provider of prepackaged surgery cases, for example, deployed RFID to improve its inspection process. The solution includes a portal to scan and verify completed surgery cases against an order list stored in a database. If an error is detected, the system alerts a supervisor to the missing, expired or extra items in the case. The new process saves the company both time and money, and eliminates the possibility of surgery-case discrepancies.

Governments are feeling the pressure, too, due to a sharp fall in tax revenue. Like many cities, Grand Rapids, Mich., turned to RFID to optimize recycling-truck pickup routes and schedules, by analyzing data collected from tagged residential disposal bins. To encourage recycling, residents are rewarded with points they can redeem for special offers from local businesses. During the first seven months of 2011, refuse tonnage was down by roughly 15 percent—and the city saved nearly $75,000 by not taking that material to an incinerator.

The agricultural sector is beginning to track produce with RFID temperature sensors, to reduce losses that occur when food spoils before it gets to market. At the same time, RFID technology can be used to track food-borne illnesses back to their sources, which could help protect the public as well as reduce losses caused by major recalls (see Vertical Focus).

In fact, RF sensors are being deployed in a wide variety of applications, from monitoring rivers for natural resource management (see Out in Front) to preserving medieval art at The Cloisters, a branch of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (see Product Developments). Sophisticated wireless sensors that can form mesh networks are less expensive to deploy than wired sensors, making it cost-efficient, for example, for British Petroleum to monitor pipe corrosion at its 11 refineries around the globe.

RFID can’t speed economic growth or strengthen consumer demand, but it can help companies become leaner, more efficient and more competitive. That won’t just ensure their survival through this tough period, but will position them for success when the economy does eventually pick up.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect. Photograph: Tom Hurst.