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What Will RFID Be When It Grows Up?

By Art van Bodegraven | 10/16/2014 | 2:06 PM

 On To The Sea!

As surely as William Tecumseh (Billy) Sherman laid waste to the old order as he moved cross Georgia, RFID is inexorably extending its reach, and value, in the supply chain management realm.  This is gratifying to some - the visioonaries - and un-nerving to others - the reactionaries.

Since the technology's infancy and early days of pilots, tests, Beta sites, experimnents, and trials by moisture and signal-distorting packing and packaging, we have experienced no shortage of nay-sayers.  Their arguments are as clear in my mind as if staked out just this morning.

"We'll never see RFID on every single pack of chewing gum"(a specious argument if ever there was one).  "Chip costs are prohibitive, and can't come down enough to make widespread application practical."  "Maybe some of the problems can be solved, but not enough of them to supoort universal application."  "Maybe RFID will grow, but it wll not dominate, not in my lifetime."  "Maybe RFID is alright for costly items - automobiles, mink coats, ski lift tickets, and such - but it makes no sense for common everyday things."  And, on and on. 


Is That Savannah In The Distance?

Despite all, more and more problems got solved.  Chip costs magically declined.  Application grew in a wider and wider range of poducts.  The pace of growth and maturation has not abated.  And, we are still within the lifetime of some of the most adamant skeptics.  When one considers the time it took for bar coding to take hold and become really useful, from rail car identification to retail ubiquity, this has been a lightning-fast ride - and it is not over yet, not by a long way.

But, with maturation, RFID has reached the teen years, and inevitable questions about what's next.

Today, luminaries and visionaries in the field, led by, among others, living legend Joe Andraski, are turning to ways and means to leverage the power and potential of RFID technology at the item level.  Interest and examples are strong regarding materials, components, and packaging - inputs to finished products that we are already using RFID on.

For those who may doubt the viability of this extension, I'll note that the literature is becoming replete with illustrative cases, thanks to the tender mercies of the RFID Journal.  This publication has become the library of record when it comes to documenting the status of RFID technology and business-relevant implementation - and experimentation.  It is a bi-monthly print and electronic independent publication of the latest in hardware, software, trends, and accomplishments.

Featured industries include: aircraft, automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics, packaged goods, retail (including apparel), medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, baggage handling, homeland security, and payment systems (think toll roads and sensors).

The capsules below illustrate a few of the hundreds of cases documented in the Journal.


For Example . . .

Sumitomo Electric LightWave in North Carolina Is using RFID to track materials - steel, yarn, plastic components.  Near-term forward planning includes extension of the technology to control smaller raw materials, and reusable returnable reels.

Artilux NMF in Lithuania, a lighting company, uses RFID for raw materials, with reusable tags for wires and plastics.

Midwest Acoust-A-Fiber (MWAAF) in Delaware, Ohio, tracks raw materials entry and consumption with RFID.  These include fiberglass amd other composites.  Their principal products are noise suppression and high-temperature insulation for the major automobile manufacturers.  The same system is also used for finished goods.

DeltaTrak uses RFID to monitor temperatures and trends for composite materials that degrade with time and temperature exposure.  Customers include compnies in aerospace, automotive, sporting goods, and wind energy industries.  Epoxies and other materials are impregnated with a variety of substances, including, Kevlar, glass, and carbon, and some mateials are purchased on a pre-impregnated basis.

OATSystems has developed systems and tags that are reliable outside of normal RFID constraints, handling a range from zero to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  The primary applications are in aerospace composite materials.

Morgan Thermal Ceramics in Pachuca, Mexico, makes products for building, automotive, and aerospace industries.  It tracks raw material movement and usage in trays and small carts.  Their system also tracks finished goods.



Is Nirvana here?  Hs the Millennium arrived?  Is Utopia at hand?  Ummm, mybe not quite.  But, the advances in RFID application are staggering.  And, the real motivator for where we need to go to meet the future head-on is how applications are spreading, like amoeba run amok, in the supply base for several industries.  In short, it is  - tah dah! - about connectivity.

Just imagine the transformative power of RFID if data accuracy and integrity were all that it needs to be, and we could use this technology to link us with suppliers and with customers.  One hesitates to say "seamlessly', but if this is the next frontier, bring it on!

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About Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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