Q&A from the RFID Webinar

May 1, 2004
The Department of Defenses supplier mandate for RFID functionality came on the heels of Wal-Marts request that top suppliers adopt the technology. To

The Department of Defense’s supplier mandate for RFID functionality came on the heels of Wal-Mart’s request that top suppliers adopt the technology. To help companies affected learn how to meet these challenges, Material Handling Management held an RFID Update webinar in Cleveland. Tom Andel, chief editor of MHM, was the moderator. Participants included Joe Dunlap, supply chain solutions specialist, Siemens Dematic; Maurice Stewart, automatic identification technology, Department of Defense; Sue Hutchinson, product manager, EPCglobal U.S.; Guillermo Gutierrez, manager, International Paper’s Smart Packaging Group. This event was co-sponsored by Siemens Dematic, and co-produced by the Northeast Ohio WERCouncil.

The following are questions and answers from the webinar.

Q: In doing your pilot programs now, might there be some problems with scarcity of resources, both equipment and intellectual resources?

Guiterrez: In terms of the hardware, as you are doing pilots, there are ways to be creative to avoid investments. Some integrators and consultants are actually able to provide equipment on site. That doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be buying some of the hardware.

In terms of tags, the reality today is there is not enough supply of tags if everyone went live with the Wal-Mart mandate to supply the industry’s requirements, let alone Department of Defense and some of the other initiatives. That’s rapidly changing.

In terms of know-how, I just encourage you as you are identifying who you are working with to ask questions about what relevant applications they have functioning, either pilots or real-world applications.

Q: Are there any guidelines for estimating the costs to implement an initial pilot?

Hutchinson: As Guillermo so accurately depicted, nothing looks like anything else. I mean, even within International Paper, he mentioned no other plant looks like Texarkana.

It is hard to think about the kind of package guidance as far as what it is going to cost you to get started with a pilot.

The guidance I would give, though, when someone gives you an estimate, please add a safety factor to that estimate. Again, expect that things aren’t going to go smoothly.

Stewart: Through the DoD technical working group, we have identified the supply chain functions that we believe will have critical RFID nodes. We pass that on to the services’ and defense agencies’ RFID offices, and basically are using that as a guideline for them to establish the initial budget foundation for RFID.

Q: How does the DoD plan to integrate the tracking information from GPS with the information from RFID base systems?

Stewart: As we use the RFID information as a transaction system of record, we will integrate that data through our functional databases, into our global systems.

Q: What frequency are you using to go through 74 inches of paper?

Guiterrez: It is EPC UHF.

Q. In a perfect world, one interrogation responds with all the information that is loaded into the tag. What do you find on the accuracy of the interrogation?

Hutchinson: Creative antennae configurations help us to improve the read rate and accuracy, and we are definitely incorporating a lot of that learning into the second-generation protocol on the basis of some of the environments that we’ve encountered in the field.

This is also the beauty of those very simple, almost dumb-bunny passive tags in that the only thing they carry is a license plate. It is a very, very minimal amount of information, literally 64 or 96 bits worth of information plus a CRC. By minimizing the amount of information on the tag, we are actually able to be more compact in our use of bandwidth, and we are seeing a lot better accuracy in read rate.

We are maybe looking at one error in several hundred thousand, one error in a million.

Again, I do have to stress it is very dependent on the kinds of material you are attempting to scan through, the speed, which comes down to the length of time the tags are in the read field.

Guiterrez: We are doing work right now with produce companies on what will become class II and semi-active tags for temperature tracking, and as you add functionality, your read rates are going to diminish and decrease very steeply.

So we are evaluating what are the right read rates when we are doing temperature tracking as opposed to asset tracking or product tag tracking.

I don’t think there is a solution today that people will claim that your can read all cases on a pallet simultaneously.

Our value propositions is dependent on being able to know all the cases on the pallet while it is still palletized, and I think that’s one of our biggest challenges as we seek our internal propositions.

Q: Would you agree that RFID technology will reduce shrinkage in the warehouse or retail environments? And is it possible to embed passive RFID into products such as DVDs or CDs?

Dunlap: I think it is application specific about how the read points are configured in the distribution center or the store or the plant in terms of reducing that shrink.

There are probably tens of dozens of libraries already that have been using RFID tags embedded in the compact disk itself, round disk-shaped RFID tags that fit over the hole of the compact disk.

To view these presentations in their entirety, go to www.mhmonline.com and click on RFID UPDATE: Are You in Shape for DoD’s Marching Orders? For a complete transcript of the RFID webinar, contact Chris Marinez at 216-931-9547 or by e-mail at [email protected]. You will also find highlight from the webinar in the May issue of Material Handling Management.