of the suppliers making strides in complying with Wal-Mart's RFID mandates is
HP. We can all learn some lessons from the experience of these kinds of supplier
early May, 2004, Hewlett Packard began shipping EPC-tagged printers and scanners
to Wal-Mart's Dallas/Fort Worth distribution center as one of eight suppliers
in Wal-Mart's initial trials. HP expects to ship its entire range of consumer
products sold through Wal-Mart many weeks before the January 2005 deadline.
HP's Memphis manufacturing plant, tags are placed on the underside of product
labels for each individual printer or scanner, as well as on the pallets themselves.
HP made a point to include labels that clearly identify and explain the RFID
tagging. The RFID tags are used to record details of the transfer of the finished
goods to a separate distribution center, before shipping to Wal-Mart. In the
initial pilot, pallets were processed in just 11 seconds—down from the 90 seconds
it had taken previously.
the End Consumer
Tesco, Metro, and others have gotten seriously burned by trying to quietly or
secretly deploy RFID, and in some cases track consumers' behavior without the
consumer's knowledge. This only reinforces paranoia about loss of privacy and
Big Brother conspiracy theories, in many cases leading to near hysteria when
the story inevitably breaks. HP, with Wal-Mart, has taken the approach of making
the identification of RFID tagged product prominent and clear, explaining RFID
to the consumer. Time will tell whether this has any negative impact on sales,
but it certainly beats the cloak and dagger approach, which has proven to be
RFID Work with Metals and Liquids
has been made of the difficulties of getting accurate and consistent reads using
RFID with products containing metals and liquids, which interfere with the RF
signal. HP has been confronting these challenges in their Chester, VA plant
in the tagging of their inkjet cartridges, which contain both liquid and metal
and are wrapped in foil. By experimenting with the placement of the tag on the
carton, HP learned that if there was a gap between the cartridge and the place
on the carton where the tag was attached, the company could avoid interference
was still unable to get 100 percent read rates on the cartridge cases once they
are on a shipping pallet. Wal-Mart has also not been able to reach 100 percent
reads accuracy for cases on pallets with other products. HP's systems track
which product is put on each pallet and then associate those items or cases
with the pallet's license plate. This reduces the need for reading individual
items on the pallet. It is helpful for companies to implement systems that can
keep track of the nesting of items within cases within pallets within containers
RFID Work with Shrink Wrap
discovered that the process of shrink-wrapping pallets can create an electrostatic
discharge (ESD) that can kill the tags on the palletized items. They overcame
the problem by using ESD-sensitive wrapping, installing antistatic flooring
where pallets are shrink-wrapped, and using other discharge devices.
a Variety of Readers and Tags
uses tags and readers from a number of suppliers. They want to ensure interoperability,
to make sure their RFID works throughout the delivery chain and across all their
retail customers, regardless of the readers being used. It also gives them flexibility
in selecting and sourcing the tags.
Quick, Manageable, Incremental Steps
started early with a proof of concept. Then, instead of creating a grand integration
project, its RFID capabilities were integrated only into the warehouse management
systems and shop floor management systems, only at the two initially deployed
sites. They are building upon that, rolling RFID out to 29 different plants
for all goods to Wal-Mart. In HP's Sao Paulo plant, they are starting to pilot
the use of RFID to reduce manufacturing costs. By starting early, taking small
but quick steps, and learning, HP has been able to realize value early and more
importantly gain invaluable experience in the process. The lesson—don't wait,
start now, and take rapid incremental steps.
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