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WalMart suppliers struggle with RFID compliance

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mark Dingley, head of Matthews’ Intelligent Identification Systems Group (IDS) , says the behemoth retail chain’s instruction that all its top 100 suppliers be RFID compliant by January was an “ambitious” date.

“It was ambitious because implementing RFID cannot be seen simply in terms of a technology upgrade: it means analysing your entire supply-chain and supply-chain strategy.”

Mark says it was also ambitious because despite RFID’s great strengths, until recently the lack of a worldwide standard has been a weakness. Some trials have raised issues with successful tag reading, and what is required from presentation, to ensure a successful read on all pallet loads.

“RFID has excellent application in supply-chain management, but it’s still an evolving technology, with more expected of it than developed standards immediately allow. EPCglobal is working on developing those standards, but they are not finalised.”

Matthews, the first coding and marking company to sign up to EPCglobal Australia, is also helping with work on a global standard. “And we’re working with our suppliers, as they’re involved in meeting mandates overseas.”

Mark says reports from late 2004 pointed towards some of WalMart’s suppliers using the slap-and-ship methodology with RFID tags.

“But if attaching RFID tags is not an inherent part of the supply-chain activities, then it’s just adding cost and inefficiencies to the process. For suppliers, processors and manufacturers, that’s just compliance for the sake of compliance, without the supply-chain transparency benefits RFID can — and will — offer.”

But Mark praises WalMart for taking a lead with RFID.

“This has ensured RFID standards will remain top priority among industry. Because it’s ‘real life’, not a trial or even theory, problems encountered should be immediately seen and provided they’re dealt with appropriately — as in with a long-term view, rather than the quick fix — that’s all the better.”

Mark says reports WalMart suppliers will do just enough to meet the chain’s demands — in the absence of a business case for their own uses. However, this doesn’t dash the chances of successful, commercial RFID implementation.

“Obviously this doesn’t mean RFID technology will go the way of Beta video — it offers too many benefits. It just requires more work.”

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