RFID Is Now a Corporate Priority

By Mark Roberti

Delta Air Lines and Macy's are among the companies making RFID a strategic imperative. What do they know that other firms don't?

For the past few years, Delta Air Lines has been using radio frequency identification technology to improve the visibility of oxygen generators installed within its aircraft (see RFID Reduces Oxygen-Generator Waste for Delta Air Lines). The system, being rolled out fleet-wide, is reducing the amount of waste associated with discarding generators, as well as the time required to check the devices' expiration dates on planes. Rick Lewis, Delta's business analyst for aircraft maintenance, will speak about this project and others at RFID Journal LIVE! 2016, which will be held on May 3-5 in Orlando, Fla. (see Keynote Speakers to Discuss RFID Deployments Underway at Lululemon Athletica, Oracle and Delta Air Lines).

Delta is thinking beyond just improving the visibility of oxygen canisters. Its RFID Journal Awards submission for Best Implementation states, "RFID is now one of five corporate priorities at Delta Air Lines—not just a maintenance priority."

Delta is not alone. For years, Airbus has been focused on using RFID to reduce costs and improve the way it builds its aircrafts and manages its supply chain (see Airbus to RFID-Tag and Track All Parts Made In-House and Airbus Enters New Phase of RFID Usage, Digitalization). In addition, Macy's Pam Sweeney, who will receive this year's Special Achievement Award, has talked about how important RFID is to the retailer and how it has helped improve inventory accuracy and on-shelf availability (see Macy's Launches Pick to the Last Unit Program for Omnichannel Sales). Executives at other companies have told me that their senior management has made RFID a strategic initiative, but they are not allowed to speak publicly about it.

What do these companies know that so many others do not? I think it's that deploying RFID to improve mission-critical operations is worth their time and investment, because it delivers efficiencies that other technologies cannot.

Delta, for example, knows that it takes approximately eight man-hours to check expiration dates on oxygen generators aboard a 757. The company's initial demonstration of its RFIDAeroCheck solution indicated that it could perform the same check using RFID within less than two minutes. With refinements, the check now takes 45 seconds to complete on a twin-aisle aircraft. I visited a Delta facility and can confirm this. I walked down one aisle from cockpit to rear galley and read all tags within the craft without even waving the reader around.

When you are a CEO and you hear about productivity improvements like that—or hear a pitch with those kind of numbers from a solution provider—you become skeptical. You think, "That's too good to be true." Delta, Macy's and others took the next step and invested a little time to investigate RFID's potential, and they liked what they saw. The systems weren't perfect when these firms began using them, but they were good enough to make the companies realize that they could achieve benefits with RFID that they could not achieve from other technologies.

Many other clothing retailers and some airlines have read enough stories about competitors benefiting from the technology that they have begun investigating its potential. In other industries, there is still a lot of skepticism. But gradually, the successful deployments are breaking down their resistance, and we will see leaders making RFID a strategic initiative in those sectors as well. This follows the natural technology adoption curve described by Geoffrey Moore in his seminal book Crossing the Chasm. It's exciting to see RFID technology finally being elevated to a corporate priority.

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.