Where are we going with rfid? A tidal wave of opinion from consultants tells us that it’s the next big thing to hit supply chain and retail, and yet many high profile companies out there seem far from impressed. At least, that’s how it seemed to me when chairing a roundtable in London this week (see report on page 16).
Frank Peplinski, supply chain general manager at Electrocomponents, the electronic component distributor, could see no merit in adopting the technology. And for the profile of the company’s products it would quite obviously be too expensive. Phil Streatfield, supply chain director at Entertainment UK, having trialed rfid was impressed with the quality of data, but thought attention should be placed on things that are already meaured.
Roundtable participants, (granted, all mid-sized distributors), believed that well ordered systems, perhaps employing bar codes could deliver the same visibility of product. So could sound processes be a good substitute? Have Wal-Mart and Tesco got it wrong?
Well, like most things, it depends. From the perspective of the distributor, there appears little value in adopting rfid. This is because they are sitting in the middle of the chain. Most of the benefits seem to accrue to the retailer and hence the interest from the likes of Tesco, Metro and Wal-Mart. But to make most sense, the tag needs to be placed at the start of the chain, in the manufacturing process. Only, the manufacturers are saddled with most of the cost of implementation (tags are still fairly expensive) and few of the benefits come their way.
Also, value of the item being tagged is another important factor to take into consideration. We are some way off seeing tags applied to tins of beans, but valuable items such as suits and CDs are now prime targets. Quite a number of technical issues still stand in the way of using rfid on dense materials such as liquids and metals. However, given time I’m sure these issues are not beyond the wit of man.
So perhaps, it’s hardly surprising that despite the enthusiastic beat of the drum to sign-up, the majority are reluctant to commit. And many that have engaged may be considered more as conscripts than volunteers.
Nick Allen, Editor