Yes, today, RFID is considered "boring." Yet it was only five years ago, back in 2006, that RFID was just beginning to make its first real inroads into general use. Today, we barely notice where RFID is actively (and passively) being used. So, let's take a moment to look back and realize what RFID offers us because, even though it's widely used today, that doesn't mean we've actually discovered all its applications.
Manufacturing and Logistics: It's hard to imagine how we could have today's super-lean manufacturing (SLM) processes without RFID. Indeed, without the ability to accurately tie offshore logistics into onshore just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, it simply wouldn't be possible. Real-time tracking of raw materials and components-whether being manufactured, picked, packed or in transit-is critical to SLM and "green lane" customs.
Asset Optimization: The ability of real time locating systems-whether "conventional" RFID or WiFi-based-to automatically identify the location of moveable assets within a facility or yard has allowed some companies to reduce the number of assets by as much as 20% while still increasing availability. These systems were just gaining popularity back in 2006 but, once the ROI became obvious, were quickly adopted over the next few years.
Anti-Counterfeiting and Healthcare: Five years ago, it was commonplace to find counterfeited goods as diverse as baby formula and high strength bolts, all of which posed a threat to human health. Organized crime had found that counterfeit medications often returned greater profits than illegal drugs. Beginning in 2006, we saw the initial development of secure and cost-effective e-pedigree programs for pharmaceuticals and other products to certify the origin, chain of custody and authenticity.
Cold Chain Safety: The development of inexpensive, active RFID data loggers in 2006 provided the ability to identify individual cases of product that had been exposed to elevated temperatures (but which were still within safety limits) enabled companies to establish accurate expiration dates on a case-by-case basis, enabling the first true First-Expire-First-Out (FEFO) operations, maximizing product freshness (and pharmaceutical effectiveness) and minimizing waste due to spoilage.
Data Gathering: Sensor-enabled RFID mesh networks today provide us with a tremendous range of information from the moisture content of a field of soybeans to the curing rate of pre-stressed concrete structural components to the presence of toxic or harmful substances. Passive and solar-powered active systems were only in their infancy way back in 2006 but quickly advanced to what we have today.
Food Chain Track and Trace: Food scares don't make the news today because contaminations can be quickly traced to the source through the use of the pre-printed passive RFID tags on the corrugated containers taken into the field. Antennas printed directly on the corrugate combined with RFID chips that don't have to be precisely positioned on the antenna made this all possible back in 2007. Integrating field data collection with processing data through to point-of-sale barcode scanning enabled absolute seed-to-plate traceability of our food supply.
Yes, RFID is "boring." Things were much more "exciting" five years ago. But, for me, boring is better. Of course, this year, we should see full production of printed (non-silicon) RFID tags for commodity items. Now that will be exciting.
Author's Note: although this is a "futuristic look back" at RFID over the next five years, the techniques and technologies mentioned are, in fact, available or in prototype today.