First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  February 15, 2008  

RFID News: RFID 2007 – Who Did What in the Past Year



Last year was a very interesting one for RFID. There was of course the continuing Wal-Mart saga, which early in the year saw the retail giant rebutting media charges that its RFID program was treading water, and ending the year with a “significant change of focus” in that program’s direction.

My sense also is that, for the most part, we were/are still largely in “pilot” mode for many companies – and are likely to stay that way for some time. Primarily, for the simple reason that change takes time – it was the failure to fully appreciate that, I think, that led to some of the Wal-Mart missteps.

But I wanted to get a better view of what really is happening in RFID. So with the help of SCDigest staffer Connie Venema, we spent some time reviewing any announcement or story we could find relating to RFID system deployments or pilots in 2007. The results, I think, are very interesting.

We compiled a small database, available to SCDigest readers (See RFID Announcements in 2007), of almost every announcement we could find from other media outlets, the business wires, etc. We looked only for companies using RFID-based systems in a pilot or full deployment, not vendor announcements.

Gilmore Says:
Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing's plan - use demand signals from RFID reads in Boeing’s own operations to drive production and replenishment at Killdeer. Network Lean.

What do you say? Send us your comments here

We did exclude a few areas. We left off libraries. We also mostly excluded pilots that were driven by academia or associations, unless they had clear end-company participation. If the announcement was just about a company meeting Wal-Mart compliance, we left that off too. We focused on news available in North America, though - as you’ll find below - that still includes many initiatives from around the globe.

Despite all that, I am sure we missed a few. In addition, we looked at stories that became public in 2007 – the actual program could have, and in some cases clearly was, started earlier than that. Finally, there are obviously many pilots and deployments going on that companies have not made public.

All told, we cataloged and reviewed about 190 such announcements from 2007. If you are even remotely interested in RFID, I think you will really enjoy the list we have compiled.

Here are my summary observations:

  • Few were served by the over focus of most of the market on Wal-Mart. That includes vendors (who put too much hope/effort there), the press and analysts, and probably even some consumer goods manufacturers, who may have been better off just looking at real internal opportunities first without the Wal-Mart overhang. As the list shows, there is so much else going on that should have received more attention.
  • In some respects, it’s fair to say the US is behind much of the world in RFID deployment. Countries like Germany and the Netherlands clearly stand out – 19 of the announcements we found came out of Germany, for example. Not surprising, as the German government says it has identified RFID as an emerging technology in which the country can play a leading global role, and the government has invested more than $250 million in RFID research since 2006.
  • It is striking how few announcements there were from US retailers or consumer goods manufacturers.
  • Clearly, use of RFID for various forms of asset tracking are becoming almost mainstream. In the hospital area, I think we must already be there – of the 190 announcements, 40 were in this sector, and the majority of those had to do with tracking medical equipment (the rest were either related to patient tracking or pharmaceuticals).
  • RFID is also becoming mainstream in shop floor work-in-process applications.
  • It seems clear to me from reading these announcements that it is the availability of RFID-enabled commercial software packages – for asset tracking, work-in-process, etc. – that winds up being a key force behind RFID systems deployment. It’s just too hard to build your own. And if a new system being purchased or upgraded comes with RFID support, it makes the move to RFID quite natural.
  • It’s good to see a handful of examples of RFID being used in distribution center/WMS applications. In truth, these have been hard to find to date. Most such examples in our 2007 list, however, are from Europe.

I’d love any other observations you come away with from the full report.

A few other quick comments. You will see we positioned a handful of announcements as “market offerings.” This is meant to indicate a company that is not a pure technology firm, but rather a manufacturer or services company that says it is using RFID to differentiate its products or offer new services. Example – Jergens, which is embedding RFID tags in its industrial rings, thus enabling its distributors to offer new lifecycle management programs for customers. We have only scratched the surface of this. If you are in supply chain, think about similar opportunities for your company – it could make you a hero.

The scope of some of these programs is ambitious and impressive. Korean automaker Hyundai, for example, is on a stated path to use RFID to drive its entire supply chain, with aggressive plans to use RFID on all cartons and containers moved around the world. Well. Anyone else have that level of RFID program commitment?

I also loved the vision of medium size aerospace supplier Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, which not only is investing heavily in RFID for its own internal usage, but hard at work integrating its systems with those of customer Boeing. The plan: demand signals from RFID reads in Boeing’s own operations will drive production and replenishment at Killdeer. Network Lean.

I may do a bit more analysis, but think you will get a great feel for the current RFID landscape from this report, and I would welcome any observations you make from the data.

What’s your reaction to Gilmore’s review of the 2007 RFID announcements? Do you think the US is behind much of the rest of the world in RFID? Does it matter? Any observations on the complete list? .

Let us know your thoughts at the feedback link below.

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