RFID is the next big thing in inventory management

ITworld.com, Solutions Integrator |  Mobile & Wireless

Just this week, separate news announcements from Microsoft, Sun, and middleware vendor Oat Systems bolstered the slowly growing excitement about RFID.

RFID, as you know is a technology that places data on tiny chips that affix to all manner of products and goods. As each passes a reader, the information is captured for further processing. That toll-road transponder on your windshield is one common example.

On the manufacturing floor, RFID tags can identify which engine, transmission, and seats belong together. Hidden tags containing the vehicle identification number could help in the war against auto theft.

In the retail world, Wal-Mart is leading the push to have its major suppliers tag goods at the case level, allowing for their tracking through the entire supply chain. Once costs come down and tagging is done at the item, rather than case level, the Electronic Product Code, a digital version of the UPC barcode currently printed on each can or box, will make for faster scanning.

At a trade show this week in Baltimore, Oat Systems introduced Oat Foundation Suite 4.0. Designed for use with consumer packaged goods and pharmaceuticals, the platform consists of five individually capable products that gain the most when used together. These products are used to configure and collect RFID reader data, identify tagged RFID items, among other things.

At the same show, Microsoft, a more recent entry in the RFID fray, announced a pilot test with a snack-food maker. Jack Link's Beef Jerky, a supplier to Wal-Mart, Target and the U.S. Department of Defense, is the poster child for Microsoft's foray into RFID for the SMB market. Now, I don't eat the stuff, but I have to wonder if RFID scanners will be installed in places like Afghanistan. But that's a thought for another day.

As a small vendor, Jack Link's isn't required by Wal-Mart to implement RFID until 2006, but the company wisely sees it as a way to get a jump on its competition. Perhaps jerky is a cruel, competitive business.

For its part, Sun Microsystems said it would set up an RFID test center in Europe, a follow-on to the facility it launched last May in Dallas.

IBM, HP, and many vendors of warehousing, retail-systems, and inventory-management software are also very active in the RFID movement.

If your clients are law firms, you might think there's no reason to consider RFID. And, for now, you'd be right. But who knows when the courts might decree that placing RFID tags on evidence containers may prevent crucial items from being misplaced.

Of course, if your clients handle physical goods, RFID tagging could be just what's needed to keep track of inventory, prevent loss, and improve the accuracy of the invoicing process.

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