February 2010 | How-To | Ten Tips

Implementing an RFID Solution

Tags: Logistics I.T.

Proper management and execution are key to a successful RFID implementation project. Santa Clara, Calif.-based semiconductor company Intel Corporation experienced this firsthand when it deployed RFID at its factory's receiving docks to track inbound chemicals. Scott Thomas, senior engineer at Intel, shares what he learned to help ensure your smooth RFID implementation.

1. Evaluate tracking alternatives. Determine if RFID is the best solution for your company by comparing all the options, including bar-code labels and other tools. The more important an asset is to your company's success, the more closely you should track it.

2. Bring suppliers on board early in the process. Work with your supply chain partners to identify mutually beneficial process improvements the RFID initiative can deliver.

3. Select equipment carefully. Test multiple readers and tags from several manufacturers. The equipment should conform to industry standards, such as ISO 19000-6C and EPC Gen 2. Any tag should work with any reader so your enterprise does not get locked into a proprietary solution.

4. Locate an RFID equipment vendor. This can be as simple as calling your existing logistics software provider to find out what readers are compatible with your current infrastructure. Trade shows, references from existing users, and online research are also common ways to locate vendors and resellers.

5. Understand the costs associated with RFID. RFID hardware is only a fraction of the deployment cost. The real money is in software, integration, and ongoing tag expenses. RFID is just a data collection tool. To realize the RFID project's value, focus on the systems and processes that can use that information to improve supply chain indicators, such as lowering supply chain risk while reducing inventory levels.

6. Buy at least one test unit early in the project. Run the test unit in an area of the facility with the worst conditions for as long as possible to make sure it will be reliable.

7. Consider ways to reuse tags. In large volumes, disposable tags are often the largest cost driver. Reusable tags significantly reduce this burden. If you currently use reusable totes or pallets, this may be a great way to leverage reusable tags. If you do not own reusable totes or pallets, consider using them to simplify the process and reduce the ongoing tag cost burden.

8. Consider the capabilities of your suppliers. If you plan to deploy RFID in inbound logistics operations, your suppliers may need help and guidance. Do not expect them to switch to RFID overnight.

9. Be diligent with documentation. Provide suppliers with a formal request to begin RFID tagging, including a deployment schedule; a primer on RFID and how/where to place tags; minimum performance standards; IT requirements for data file transmissions; and requirements for tag encoding. Most suppliers will also require tests to make sure the program will run in their environment.

10. Develop business processes for exceptions. Tags sometimes stop working. Readers sometimes fail. Networks go down. Power goes out. Develop procedures and train employees to handle complications and equipment failures. For example, consider using bar codes as a backup system in case tags or readers fail, and set up alternative read locations to cover reader failure.