RFID doesn''t have to be just a reactive compliance issue for consumer product manufacturers and suppliers. Proactively adopting an ''RFID Readiness'' strategy today could ease technology implementation and have a positive impact on tomorrow''s bottom line, according to Zebra Technologies.
Consumer product manufacturers and suppliers are challenged with mandates from major clients requiring radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging compliance at the carton, case, and pallet level. With new RFID compliance deadlines looming, Zebra has published its practical guidelines - ten basic steps - that manufacturers and suppliers can take to be RFID-ready by 2005:
Consider the impact. Efficiently and automatically capturing data is one thing but using it to improve business processes is another. To be successful, data must be in sync between partners and customers. For example, the use of RFID tags carrying Electronic Product Codes (EPCs) on cases, cartons, or pallets will enable vendors and customers to exchange information to manage inventory, eliminate out-of-stocks, and enhance service levels. Begin by determining the desired business impact of RFID and where to achieve these benefits. Start by asking these key questions: What business problems can be solved? Where can RFID make the most measurable contributions to the bottom line? What internal operational efficiencies and customer service improvements can be achieved by implementing RFID?
Summon your allies. An important part of performing ''due diligence'' is to know exactly who will benefit from RFID implementation beyond primary customers. What potential exists for other supply chain benefactors, such as packaging and raw materials suppliers? Identify all the primary constituents, and educate them on the benefits of RFID.
Assemble the troops. A critical first step in getting ready to deploy an RFID strategy is to enlist the right support. Start at the top, and secure buy- in from upper management. This acceptance will ensure that RFID adoption is a company-wide initiative. Keep in mind that RFID-enabled systems can affect an entire business, from shop floor personnel to the executive suite. Create a decision-making committee and choose a senior manager to lead the group. Doing this early on will build the support needed to sustain your RFID initiative over the long term.
Know the processes. Take a long, honest look at your current business processes. Supplementing current bar code systems with RFID technology is only effective if problem areas are successfully pinpointed. Manufacturers will be in a better position to extract the full value of their RFID investment if they identify how their business needs to change and set measurable improvement goals. Evaluate how items are moved and shipped, the rate of on-time deliveries, how many returns are received each month, and the frequency of out-of-stocks. Consider the manner in which each of these processes is currently handled. This assessment will help uncover inefficiencies and where RFID could make a real positive effect on the business.
Identify targets. There are a variety of applications for which RFID can make an immediate positive business impact. Consider inventory management improvements, better inventory visibility, operational improvements, reducing inventory shrink, and better asset tracking.
Envision the future. Set high-level milestones for what your business will look like by 2005, 2010, and even 2020. Be realistic about what can be accomplished in the initial phases of RFID implementation. Preliminary focus can include basic compliance with the tagging requirements set by your customers. Planning small, concrete steps will lead to wider RFID adoption and utility throughout the organisation. Focus on the low-hanging fruits first.
Understand the technology. Invite RFID hardware, software, and integration partners to show their capabilities. Challenge them to show how their offerings will help you achieve your business vision. Make sure all parts of the solution are examined. Find partners who know the technologies and understand your business processes. A good partner is also one that can help measure the return on investment to enable future process improvements and achieve business goals.
Test the water. Once the selection has been narrowed, lay the foundation for evaluating RFID technology in a pilot setting. Create a pilot implementation of the RFID solution in a limited, defined area. This trial will help identify problems and enable optimisation prior to wider deployment. When reviewing the performance of an RFID solution keep in mind these questions: Has the system been thoroughly tested with a representative range of item types? Has the impact of any "new data" on the existing information systems been assessed? Is the technology upgradeable to protect any capital investment? Can the established quality assurance processes ensure accurate readability? Organisations such as EPCglobal are setting up certification centres at which technology vendors and suppliers can ensure their equipment and merchandise will meet RFID minimum performance standards.
Prepare for deployment. There are a number of factors that influence the RFID solution decision-making process. Before it is deployed, make sure that all the critical areas that must be addressed prior to implementation of an RFID system have been examined carefully.
Join the cause. Participating with organisations such as EPCglobal is important to help shape the future of RFID technology to your advantage. Participation can help define and identify standards and address interoperability issues, as well as speed up technology adoption.
Zebra works with companies to evaluate how RFID solutions can help them prepare for RFID compliance and other business improvements issues. Zebra Technologies also delivers on-demand printing solutions for business improvement and security applications throughout approximately 100 countries, and a wide range of applications make use of Zebra-brand thermal bar code, smart label, card, and receipt printers.
Extract From Using RFID