The UK supermarket chain, Tesco, has unveiled its plans for end-to-end supply chain RFID (radio frequency identification) tagging, to be fully implemented by all suppliers by 2007. The plans follow successful early trials of the technology on a range of non-food items in some of its stores and distribution centres.
Starting immediately, Tesco is planning and working with suppliers and technology providers to bring about a complete supply chain implementation of RFID technology by 2007.
But perhaps the smartest ‘spin’ Using RFID has seen applied to RFID tagging and tracking technology is the use of the name ‘radio barcodes’ which, while being a completely open and honest description of the technology, seems to psychologically distance it from some of the concerns raised by consumers and activist groups about privacy and security. The firm has made a wealth of consumer-level information about radio barcodes available on a dedicated section of its web site, at http://www.tesco.com/radiobarcodes.
In addressing the questions Tesco anticipates consumers will ask, the firm’s web site describes its implementation of RFID tags as “the next generation barcode”, which are simply radio-enabled tags capable of carrying just one electronic product code (EPC), just like a barcode. No other information is to be stored on the tag.
The short range of the tag (due to a lack of any in-built power source) is also explained, although the site does not specify the maximum range envisaged. Additional information about individual items (such as batch number and expiry date) is held by Tesco in a separate, secured system.
Tesco also explains on its consumer-level web pages that the technology is being used to track products within its supply chain (at case, pallet, product tray, or item level), and to monitor the flow of goods through distribution centres and store shelves (for re-stocking advice, for example).
The firm’s web site explains: “We have been testing the technology for more than two years thanks to our involvement with the Auto-ID centre, which has been responsible for driving standardisation and cost reduction. Following much internal analysis, research, and trials, we now understand how Radio Barcodes can be used to benefit our customers. We have developed business cases and thanks to our trials understand that the technology actually works.”
Supply chain trial
The firm’s latest trial which began at the end of October 2003 at its Milton Keynes distribution centre involves attaching an RFID tag to Tesco transportation cases to improve supply chain visibility between the distribution centre and two stores at Peterborough and St Neots. It follows item-level trials on DVDs at Tesco stores in Sandhurst and Leicester which are due to complete early in 2004. The tags and readers are being supplied by California, USA-based Alien Technology, with applications and systems software being provided by IBM Business Consulting Services. Other technology partners involved in the trial are Intel Corporation and Integrated Product Intelligence.
“This trial is helping us to gain better visibility in the supply chain from when the products leave our distribution centre until they arrive at the store. It is also helping us to improve product availability for customers and makes life simpler for our staff,” explained Tesco IT director Colin Cobain.
Tesco has already laid out its provisional implementation plan, although the dates may alter later, depending on the results of its trials and standards review in 2004. The schedule currently includes:
- Starting now: All of Tesco’s suppliers, if they have not already done so, are now expected to start their own research and development activities.
- April 2004: Tesco will undertake a comprehensive standards review is to be undertaken by Tesco. The remainder of the schedule is subject to a successful review at this stage.
Assuming the review goes according to plan, Tesco will announce its supplier requirements, along with a list of products to be tagged initially (which Tesco has designated ‘phase 1 products’).
- July 2004: The first test orders of RFID tagged cases are expected to arrive at Tesco distribution centres, marking the start of the ‘live’ supply chain trial.
- September 2004: Suppliers of the ‘phase 1 products’ implement full case-level tagging, and Tesco will use the technology in tracking and distributing the goods.
- September 2006: Phase 2 commences, in which all remaining products are to be tagged.
- January 2007: The complete implementation of case-level RFID tagging is expected to be complete.
However, there are no specific details available about the possibility of full item-level tagging at the time of writing. (Using RFID will bring you more details of future developments as and when they become available.)
Because the specifications and standards for Tesco’s supply chain RFID system have not yet been fully developed, tested, and reviewed, the firm has committed itself to a relatively broad standards specification for the time being. In terms of tag types and frequency, it has selected Class 1 UHF (ultra-high frequency) tags for pallets, cages, cases, and product trays. Tesco will also be following all the necessary standards to ensure compliance, compatibility, reliability, and security:
- European regulations on the use of power levels and radio frequencies;
- The EPC product numbering system;
- ONS (object name service) and PML (physical mark-up language) if or when appropriate.
“This technology will change the way we run our stores and supply chain, delivering major benefits for both customers and staff,” explained Philip Clarke, Logistics and IT Director for Tesco.
More Info: http://www.tesco.com/radiobarcodes
Source: Tesco (UK)
Copyright 2003 UsingRFID.com
Reprinted with permission from Using RFID (http://www.usingrfid.com/news)
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