The retail sector has started to embrace radio-frequency identification or RFID with companies from Macy’s in the U.S. and Marks and Spencer in the U.K. using the technology for inventory controls.
Now RFID looks set to transform the logistics industry, allowing companies to check and track deliveries along the supply chain and beyond, says Stéphane Lapeyre, commercial engineer at IER, a maker of RFID tags and equipment and a subsidiary of the Bolloré group in Paris.
“RFID tags offer highly accurate readings of multiple goods,” says Lapeyre. “They allow the buyer to tag merchandise as soon as it leaves the manufacturer.” An importer of shirts from China, for example, could use RFID tags implanted in the shirts to check their order is correct. They can then see when the merchandise is loaded onto the boat and when it arrives at their warehouse. The same tags could later serve for inventory controls, add Lapeyre. Lapeyre estimates that RFID technology can read a palette of two hundred cases in the time it takes a forklift trick to pass the readers in a warehouse.
Unlike a barcode, RFID tags do not need to be in sight of the reader, so saving time. The RFID tags most suited for logistics are passive devices that use radio-frequency magnetic fields to transfer data, says Lapeyre. These tags require no battery because they get the energy needed to disclose the code from the scanner designed to read it. Ultra-high frequency is the preferred technology for logistics because of the greater range it allows for reading, typically up to two meters, Lapeyre says. Tags can be implanted in items ranging from textiles to plastic boxes and in some cases are reusable, he adds. They use international Electronic Product Codes that unlike barcodes can identify a specific product by its unique identification number. In addition, RFID technology has become less costly, making it more attractive to a wide range of companies in sectors ranging from retailing, textiles and aeronautics, Lapeyre adds. Today, a passive RFID tag costs less than ten centimes, he estimates.
RFID has already proved its worth in the retail sector. Shops spend 75 percent less time on inventories with RFID tags, Lapeyre estimates. Companies, meanwhile, boost sales of their goods by between ten and 20 percent using the tags, he adds. “Retailers can restock their shelves quickly and so they lose less customers,” he notes. The retail sector is using RFID tags in other ways. French supermarket group Auchan, for example, recently announced plans to use RFID to mange and track 1.8 million reusable plastic crates as they move from food growers to distribution centers. The tags and readers were manufactured by IER. “RFID technology is mature and has become more affordable,” says Lapeyre. “It has many applications for the logistics industry.”