What You Don’t Know About RFID

By Mark Roberti

There are many solutions and applications that companies often don't realize they are missing.

In my last column, I discussed the value of RFID Journal LIVE!, the world's only significant event focused on radio frequency identification. I touched on one point in particular—serendipity—that I would like to expand upon.

Serendipity, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is the "phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for." Many years ago, at one of the first LIVE! events, Mike O'Shea, then the head of Kimberly-Clark's RFID efforts, brought a team with him to the conference, and one member found a small RFID label encoder that could be worn on a belt. He wasn't looking for such a device, nor did he have a clue such a thing existed. But he immediately realized it would solve a problem with which the company was struggling.

Kimberly-Clark was having a third-party company remove goods from cases and put them into displays of mixed products, which were being shipped to Walmart. K-C wanted to tag those displays so it could track them after they arrived at Walmart's stores. But the co-packer had no internet access at the facility, so it had no way to connect an RFID reader to the internet to encode and print tags with unique serial numbers.

With the belt unit that dispensed pre-encoded tags, the company realized it could create a simple tagging solution that would enable the co-packer to tag the displays, and then use a handheld reader to interrogate the tags on the displays before the units were shipped. The handheld could later be connected to the internet to upload the tag reads, along with the times of those reads, thereby affording Kimberly-Clark visibility into when the displays shipped.

There have been many other examples like this throughout the years, some involving the conference and others involving the exhibit hall. A senior executive at Bombardier Transportation attended one event seeking a manufacturing solution, for example, but ended up hearing about an oil company using an RFID-based real-time location system to track employees in case an evacuation became necessary. He had an "Ah-ha!" moment and wound up developing a solution to alert track inspectors when a train arrived.

Attendees often hear about things companies in their industry are doing that they didn't think of, or get ideas from people in different industries. I constantly have those at our events come up to me saying, "I never thought about using RFID for that. That's going to benefit us a lot." Or, "I didn't know there was an RFID tag that could do that." Or, "I had never heard of a reader that was designed just for that application."

Often, these ideas can save companies a lot of time and money. Sometimes, they end up deploying an application they had never even considered—one that cuts costs considerably or reduces the incidence of errors or waste. Other times, they find a tag or reader or software application that greatly reduces the cost and complexity of a deployment. Either way, there is a tremendous value to being in an environment with so many RFID solution providers and users—more value than you might expect.

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.