In another upcoming move, the B2B contractors will exploit the Star IIIs Bluetooth support by carrying new portable Bluetooth printers. Then, theyll be able to print out receipts on the spotinstead of leaving customer sites to hook up by cable to printers inside their trucks, as they do today. In certain markets, FedEx Express couriers are also starting to use Bluetooth-enabled PDAs. For a longer time, the Express division has been implementing Bluetooth for package sorting at its hub facilities. But FedEx Ground also has a lengthy heritage of RFID use, stretching back to about 1998, Hlutkowsky said. FedEx Ground actually began in 1985 as Roadway Package System (RPS), a division of Roadway Services, a company that became Caliber System Inc. in 1996. Two years after that, FDX Corp. bought the Caliber Companies, and in January, 2000, RPS was rebranded FedEx Ground. Parcel Direct, obtained by FDX Corp. through another acquisition, became a subsidiary of FedEx Ground and, in turn, has since been rebranded FedEx SmartPost."We have quite a long legacy of providing a lot of visibility, anywayof being able to tell where a shipment is," he said. RFID provides the advantage of not requiring line-of-sight transmission, but so does FedEx Grounds current bar code scanning technology, according to the FedEx exec. "For example, weve engineered our systems to be able to scan at high speed on all six sides," he said. Click here to read about a recent study purporting that transportation management technologies are key to on-time delivery. At the same time, FedEx Ground is doing internal testing and evaluation of various RFID technologies, as well as collaborating with RFID standards groups such as epcGlobal and ISO. Meanwhile, FedEx Ground has been focusing, too, on replacing laser scanners with CCD at its shipping facilities. "Laser used to be state-of-the-art. But with CCDactually, the same kind of technology thats used in camcorderswe can capture and decode very quickly, for much faster read rates," he said. Is FedEx Ground feeling any pinch from competing carriers, such as DHL and UPS? Not really, according to Hlutkowsky. "Weve been at this game for about 20 years now, and we truly believe we have the most sophisticated operation. Whenever weve deployed a new technology, its been very well-designed and tested," he told eWEEK.com. Editors Note: This story was updated to provide more background information about FedEx Ground. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news and analysis of enterprise supply chains.
In commercial deployment, FedEx Ground still uses RFID strictly for asset tracking, to monitor the arrival and dispatch of truck shipments at loading docks. "Were also seeing a lot of interest right now among shippers and receivers in RFID [for package tracking]. But RFID is a relatively new technology. We will work to support enhanced visibility [into the supply chain], but we want to understand what that visibility will be, and what it will mean to carriers," Hlutkowsky said.