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Dan Gilmore


Supply Chain Digest

Gilmore's Supply Chain Jab

Gilmore is Editor and President of Supply Chain Digest, which he founded in 2003.


Aug. 12, 2020

Supply Chain Jab: Revisiting SCDigest's Framework on RFID Process Change

From Basic Bar Code Replacement to New to World Processes


Automatic Identification, or Auto ID, is one the eight core subject categories SCDigest organizes our stories and content around. Auto ID coverage was meant to include bar codes/scanning, but with most of the focus on RFID.

In the past few years, we have added Internet of Things (IoT) to the mix. 

Gilmore Says...

Most RFID deployments fall under scenario 1. A few could be categorized as being in scenario 2. Most scenario 3 applications are still on the drawing boards.

What do you say?

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For a long time, there was lots of RFID news, obviously around the ill-fated Walmart RFID mandate but even for a some years after that eventually collapsed.

More recently, that news has really dried up, to the point its hard to find news about RFID in the supply chain that seems interesting, with the exception of some technical innovation out of MIT every few months.


I am exagggerating a bit, but not much. So, in this blog, I will resort as I have done in the past to dusting off an RFID deployment framework I first developed in 2002.


Some 20 years ago, I though it would be helpful to think of the potential use of RFID in the context of the predominant supply chain auto ID technology, bar codes.

From that perspective, any potential use of RFID may be thought of as occupying one of three categories relative to the current or alternative selection of bar coding for the process/application.

1. Basic Bar Code Replacement: In these scenarios, RFID will operate really just like an "electronic bar code." Individual bar code scans are simply replaced with an RFID read. There are many examples where this type of application makes perfect sense and can deliver significant benefits. Example applications include pallet identification (e.g., in receiving or shipping), reading cartons on a conveyor system, pallet putway, reading work-in-process totes, etc.

The advantage of RFID over bar codes in these scenarios usually relate to improved efficiency from eliminating hand scans by operators, or eliminating problems with bar code read rates, as is often found in high speed carton sortation systems, though that issue is declining at a steady rate.

The "basic bar code replacement" applications are the easiest to implement because the fundamental business process is the same, and the underlying business software application can often remain exactly, not caring (or knowing) whether the source of the identifier was a bar code or RFID tag.

2. Enhanced Business Process: In these cases, the basic business process remains the same, but the unique advantages of RFID begin to be more leveraged. For example, RFID might be used to simultaneously read all of the cartons on a pallet as it passes through a portal, or read all of the serial numbers virtually at once as a pallet of goods leaves a production cell.

In these scenarios, the fundamental process remains the same, but is enhanced to drive even greater productivity. A pallet of bar coded goods cannot be read all at once, and if bar codes on some cartons are not accessible, could not even be read manually after the pallet is built.

These types of scenarios require some changes to the underlying software, which is unlikely to be developed to handle these types of simultaneous inputs, and to react to errors or misreads.

3. Designing of New Business Processes: In these applications, the underlying business process is fundamentally altered. One good example might be a RFID network in a distribution center that continually monitors all inventory in near real-time.

In that scenario, traditional beliefs and processes around traditional physical inventories and cycle counting are completely turned on their heads. That means significant work in designing "as is" and "to be" processes, getting substantially more input and buy-in from multiple parties than the first two scenarios, likely significant changes to underlying software or even adoption of new applications, substantial piloting and testing, etc.

Today, most RFID deployments fall under scenario 1. A few could be categorized as being in scenario 2. Most scenario 3 applications are still on the drawing boards.

But categorizing potential RFID-based applications as falling into which scenario can help companies understand the likely impact on potential return (lowest to highest) and system software work required (also lowest to highest).

What do you think of our three-level RFID deployment model? What would you add or change? What type of applications would you put as being in category 2 or 3? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.

Your Comments/Feedback




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