Testing the Waters

By Joseph C. Panettieri  |  Posted 2004-01-12 Print this article Print

Testing the Waters

Instead of blanketing the supply chain with RFID, some manufacturers are embracing the technology on a smaller scale. Many of Accentures recent projects involve "four walls" RFID, meaning that manufacturers can track products within a specific building but not across the globe. In one example, RFID readers prevent forklifts from placing the wrong materials into a mechanical mixer. "The system halts the forklift if the tagged materials arent supposed to enter the mixer," said Accentures Ginsburg. "This application applies to practically any manufacturing environment where goods have to reach their proper destination."

International Paper Co., of Stamford, Conn., recently activated a similar tracking system in its Texarkana, Texas, warehouse. The system transmits routing instructions to forklift operators in real time using RFID. Each roll of paper in the factory has a unique RFID tag from Matrics Inc., of Columbia, Md.

The system could find its way to additional manufacturers rapidly. Thats because International Paper recently partnered with Esync Inc., a Toledo, Ohio, consulting company, to jointly market RFID integration services. Under terms of the partnership, Esync and International Papers Smart Packaging Group will develop and market RFID systems to both companies customers, according to a spokesman for Esync. Sources say International Paper hopes revenue from the Esync relationship offsets internal RFID rollout costs.

In a similar partnership, Ford Motor Co. and WhereNet Corp. are developing and marketing a wireless RFID system that allows workers to request tagged parts on the fly. WhereNet, based in Santa Clara, Calif., previously partnered with Siemens AG to design a wireless tracking system for a BMW manufacturing plant in Dingolfing, Germany.

But RFID still isnt quite ready for prime time. "For now, most manufacturers are piloting, piloting and piloting some more," said John Thorn, general manager of Checkpoint Systems Inc.s Supply Chain & Brand Solutions Group, in Thorofare, N.J. "Its all about learning how this technology works for the application and understanding scope of enterprise re-engineering."

Thorn expects extended pilots to be under way in a year, and limited production rollouts by mid-2005.

Even Wal-Mart, RFIDs most outspoken proponent, doesnt expect CPG manufacturers to ride the bandwagon before next year.

Joseph C. Panettieri (joe_pan5@yahoo.com) is editorial director of the New York Institute of Technology. He has covered Silicon Valley since 1992.


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