Message in a bottle
One of the biggest obstacles to the successful implementation of radio frequency identification (RFID) is the ability to read through certain substances, such as liquid and some metals. “It's a very large challenge for us because liquids and metals are 99.8% of our business,” says Ken Collins, project director of Connect Logistics Services, a lab site for third-party logistics provider Tibbett and Britten Group Americas (www.tibbett-britten.com).
“We've found that in certain instances — if you have tall skinny wine bottles, for example — and you put your RFID tag at the top of the case, there's probably enough air space to bounce through it and read that tag on the inside,” Collins explains. “On the other hand, if you have a flat of beer cans, there's no way to read it.”
CLS tested about eight different packagings, including wine in wooden boxes, to see what kind of read rates each would get. The finding was that in the receiving function, for example, it was possible to see only a certain percentage of the tags, depending on the pallet structure and so forth.
“Once a pallet was received and broken up into eaches,” notes Collins, “that's when the system really comes to fore. The nice thing about an RFID tag is that every case is unique for its duration. That's the real benefit, but it's also a challenge for the ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems.”
For CLS, RFID won't be a big deal until it's possible to read individual bottles, because that's the selling unit. “It's our retailers that are going to drive that,” Collins notes. “We're not even close to that yet, though — the cost of a tag is still way too high.”