Taking Stock of RFID

Integration apps from SAP, IBM and others may help users better comply with customer mandates and standards initiatives from EPCglobal.

Product manufacturers rushing to comply with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.s mandate that they use radio-frequency identification technologies by next January are contending with evolving standards for moving RFID data through their IT environments.

For example, the RFID tags that transmit inventory and other data through the supply chain are still an emerging technology.

To lead customers through the potential quagmire, technology vendors Acsis Inc., SAP AG, Manhattan Associates Inc. and IBM are readying RFID integration software to help users better comply with customer mandates and standards initiatives from EPCglobal Inc.

EPCglobal, of Lawrenceville, N.J., has forged a set of eight RFID standard specifications. They include specifications for tag-encoding schemata, several different hardware communication interfaces, tag-reader messaging, EPCglobal Network application requests, a common vocabulary to be used within EPCglobal and an object name service format. However, the specifications are in various stages of completion—some have reached a recommendation, where approval is imminent, while others are still in draft form.

To help companies struggling to implement even pilot RFID programs move forward, supply chain management software developer Acsis last week announced a partnership with SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, whereby Acsis will integrate its Data-Link device control software with SAPs Auto-ID infrastructure. Data-Link collects and integrates information from several devices, as well as from RFID data-gathering devices such as bar-code scanners, palletizers and scales.

The fruits of the relationship should enable users to get data into a usable format, according to Acsis officials in Marlton, N.J.

/zimages/7/28571.gifSun Microsystems recently opened an RFID test center to help companies test their configurations. Click here to read more.

Separately, supply chain management software developer Manhattan Associates began providing an integration platform for RFID and RFID-enabled applications with the introduction of its 2004 R1 suite earlier this month.

The suite is geared toward helping customers better collaborate and meet industry RFID mandates, said officials in Atlanta. A slew of applications in the suite have upgrades, including those for Transportation Planning & Execution, Carrier Management, Reverse Logistics Management and Distributed Order Management.

Melinda Jaynes, MIS project planner at Garan Inc., which makes Garanimals kids clothing, said the company will use Manhattan Associates integration platform for RFID to comply with Wal-Marts requirements.

"Our biggest focus is getting the latest version [of the Manhattan Associates software] installed and in production," said Jaynes in Starkville, Miss. "In June, were focusing on RFID functionality and all the parts that it takes to get RFID fully functional by October."

To comply with Wal-Marts mandates, Garan has to have RFID readers and antennas, as well as the software that will interface with those readers back to its systems. It also has to be compliant with EPCglobals tags and reader protocols.

For its part, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., participates in EPCglobals standardization process, as well as in workgroups dealing with middleware for gathering and filtering RFID information.

IBM is looking to take the RFID discussion to the next level by providing RFID process templates, likely through partners that provide examples of RFID-specific business processes that can be used for integration into a companys back-end systems.

"This is more of an emerging industry that people are trying to understand," said Rainer Kerth, lead RFID architect within IBMs software group.

Garans Jaynes, for one, does not see a lack of standards as an issue, given the amount of work EPCglobal has done already.

"There are certain rules that we have to go by [to comply with Wal-Marts mandate]," said Jaynes. "Im not sure why everyones saying there are not standards. EPCglobal does have some standards, and they are finalizing [others]."

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