What Have We Learned About RFID?

By Mark Roberti

While the past 10 years have seen ups and downs when it comes to the use of radio frequency identification, we now know a great deal about how and where the technology delivers value.

In 2004 and 2005, the hype regarding radio frequency identification technology was at its peak. Article after article was published by the mainstream media, touting the technology as revolutionary, and claiming it would transform the global supply chain. I used to cringe every time that I read such a story, because as much as I believed in RFID's ability to deliver business benefits, it clearly was not going to deliver them overnight.

Then, in 2008 and 2009, there were articles reporting that RFID was dead, that it had been abandoned by Wal-Mart and that it was too expensive to be of any practical use to anyone. Again, I cringed—but I never lost faith. It has always been obvious to me that RFID would be able to deliver significant benefits to companies, and it was just a matter of time before obstacles would be overcome and the technology would reach the point of maturity at which it could be deployed on a large scale.

RFID is reaching that point, and you don't have to take just my word on this. This year's RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition—to be held on Apr. 3-5, 2012, in Orlando, Fla.—will feature numerous speakers whose employers have deployed or will soon deploy RFID on a large scale, and who will explain how and where the technology delivers value. These businesses and organizations include Airbus, American Apparel, Bell Helicopter, Bloomingdales, Boeing, Cisco Systems, Deere & Co., Grupo Industrial Morgan, McDermott International, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Steelcase, TopGolf, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Veterans Health Administration, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and many others.

What is interesting is that these companies represent the aerospace, electronics, energy, entertainment, manufacturing, military and retail sectors. In other words, RFID is delivering value to a small number of businesses across a wide variety of industries. That means other firms in those sectors can also benefit from the technology.

Here are some of the things we've learned about RFID during the past 10 years. Not surprising, they vary by industry:

• In retail, RFID enables companies to more effectively manage complex inventories. The ability to quickly count and identify items that look very similar but are different makes it possible to ensure that stores always have the correct items on shelves when customers want to buy them.

• In manufacturing, RFID can greatly reduce the cost of tracking work-in-process, by reducing or eliminating the need to scan bar codes. It can help companies better manage finished inventory and ensure that they always ship the proper items to the right customers.

• Aerospace companies can achieve the same benefits that other manufacturers receive—and can track parts histories, which have been a challenge to manage.

• Health-care providers can greatly improve asset-utilization rates and reduce capital expenditures on new medical equipment.

• Entertainment companies can enhance the customer experience and better manage the assets they use to entertain people.

• The U.S. military can better track and manage everything within its supply chain, so that it can then wage war more effectively.

I believe that LIVE! 2012—our 10th annual conference and exhibition—will mark the end of the beginning for RFID adoption. For companies that have deployed RFID, the next 10 years will be about scaling deployments and layering on new benefits. The businesses that will gain a competitive advantage will be those that maximize the value of the data that RFID systems can deliver.

Companies that are new to RFID or piloting the technology can learn from early adopters that have proved its value in many applications. There is no better way to take advantage of all that has been learned over the past decade than to attend RFID Journal LIVE! next month.

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.